Ethyl: The 1920s conflict over leaded gasoline

 

discoll.village

ETHYL

The
1920s

Environmental Conflict

Over Leaded Gasoline

and Alternative Fuels

Paper to the

American Society for Environmental History

Annual Conference March 26-30, 2003

Providence, R.I.

By William Kovarik,
Ph.D.

wkovarik@radford.edu

Ethyl alcohol was
blended at 10-20% with gasoline to boost “octane” in European
motor fuels during the 1920s and 30s. The Discol blend featured in this
advertisement was a typical alternative to Ethyl brand leaded gasoline.

“In
from 10 to 20 years this country will be dependent entirely upon outside sources
for a supply of liquid fuels… paying out vast sums yearly in order to obtain
supplies of crude oil from Mexico, Russia  and Persia.”

– Harold Hibbert, 1921,
Dept. of Chemistry, Yale University

“They
say we have foreign oil. Well, how are we going to get it in case of war? It
is in Venezuela, it is out in the east, in Persia, and it is in Russia.
Do you think that is much defense for your children?”
– Francis Garvan, Chemical
Foundation president, Second Dearborn Conference on Farm Chemurgy, 1936


Contents

Abstract

The late 20th century environmental
controversy
over the phase-out of leaded
gasoline is well documented and familiar to most people, since the transition
to unleaded fuel occurred less than 20 years ago. However, this recent controversy
took place in a vacuum of history, in effect, repeating it.

The early 20th century controversy
over the introduction of Ethyl brand leaded gasoline was not well known. Historians
have seen it as an example of partisan science (Pleeth, 1949); an example
of the heroic nature of invention (Boyd, 1957; Young, 1960; Hughes, 1979;
Robert, 1983; Allen, 1996); as the “Three Mile Island” of the 1920s
(Pratt, 1980); an example of the contingent nature of technological choices
(Bernton, 1981); as a way for GM to compete with Ford  (Loeb, 1995);
and a case of industry hegemony over science (Rosner & Markowitz, 1989).
In recent years, the release of some previously private files has led to re-evaluation
of the discovery of leaded gasoline in light of alternatives.  (Kovarik,
1993, Kitman, 2000).     

This paper summarizes some of
the re-examination of Ethyl leaded gasoline in the context of the technological
roads not taken, particularly ethyl alcohol and the close competition between
the two Ethyls as anti-knock fuels in the 1920s and 1930s. 

This paper concludes that Ethyl
alcohol fuel and Ethyl leaded gasoline are not simply “substitutes”
for each other. In the 1919-1923 period, researchers believed that ethyl alcohol
would be the fuel of the future when oil ran out.  Their original secret
motive for creating leaded gasoline was to standardize a high compression
gasoline engine that would more efficiently use ethyl alcohol in an oil-short
future. Even so, when the environmental crisis came to a head in 1925, GM
researchers claimed in government hearings that there were no alternatives
to leaded gasoline.

A longstanding
policy question of great importance has been whether technology is best shaped
by private or by public interests. We are inundated with reasons to deregulate
technology today, but the Ethyl conflict provides a cautionary tale about
what happens when there is a vacuum of regulation.

The
21st century historical controversy
involves interesting problems
of interpretation and documentation as well. The Kovarik and Kitman re-evaluations
of the Ethyl conflict have been seen as a  ” distorted interpretation
of
known historic events and documents that have long been
in the public record
” by industries that developed leaded
gasoline.  Yet nearly all original primary documents concerning TEL have
long been kept out of the public record, with the exception of the
small amount of Midgley material released in 1991.  Last year, when tens
of thousands of primary documents were provided under legal discovery procedures
for a product liability lawsuit (Smith v. Lead Industries), they were sealed
at the industry’s request.

Outline of the Ethyl Conflict

The Ethyl conflict involves several
stages of historical competition between two “Ethyls”:

   1)
Ethyl alcohol
, (ethanol) made from farm crops or cellulose, which can
be blended with  gasoline to boost octane (anti-knock) ratings; and  

  2) “Ethyl”
brand leaded gasoline
, a higher octane gasoline sold between 1923 and
1986, now banned in most nations for public health reasons. 

Considering engine performance
only, there is little difference between the two additives.  Three grams
of TEL has about the same effect on anti-knock as adding a pint and a half
of ethanol to a gallon of gasoline (15-20%), all other things being equal.
(Gray/USDA, 1933; Thomas, 2001). 

   Ethyl
alcohol
is best known as a beverage, of course, but it has also been
used as a fuel from the dawn of time. In a blend with turpentine known as
“camphene” it was a popular lamp fuel in the first half of the 19th
century. It was the fuel used in early automotive experiments by Samuel Morey,
Nicholas Otto, Henry Ford and others. Ford championed the view that ethanol
was the fuel of the future that would ease the farm crisis by creating new
markets for farm products. Ethyl alcohol was blended with various fuels, including
gasoline, to boost fuel anti-knock (later known as octane) well before tetra-ethyl
lead was introduced. Because it has a naturally high anti-knock rating and
can be used in blends or alone as a fuel in standard internal combustion engines,
it was considered in the 1920s by many experts – Henry Ford, Alexander
Graham Bell, and Charles Kettering among them – to be the fuel of the
future.

In recent years ethyl alcohol
blends  in gasoline have been called “gasohol” or “ethanol
enhanced” gasoline. Most recently, ethanol has replaced MTBE (methyl
tertiary butyl alcohol) as an octane booster, especially in areas like California
where MTBE is blamed for contaminating water supplies. 

   Ethyl leaded
gasoline
is the confusing brand name choice for tetra ethyl
lead (TEL), which was an anti-knock (octane boosting) gasoline additive discovered
by General Motors researchers on Dec. 9, 1921 and introduced commercially
in Ohio on Feb. 2,1923. Ethyl is also the corporate name of the joint GM-Standard
Oil of New Jersey (Exxon) venture established in 1924 to market the additive.
Since GM was 38 percent owned by the E. I. Du Pont de Nemours at the time,
there were initially three partners.

The general public first learned
of TEL in late October,1924 when half a dozen workers went violently insane
and then died, apparently from a mysterious poison they were making at a Standard
oil refinery in New Jersey.  When it became clear that this poison was
being put into gasoline, and that other workers had died in similar refineries,
a vehement public health controversy broke out.  GM and Standard insisted
that TEL was only dangerous in concentrated form at the refinery, not when
diluted in gasoline. But public health scientists, especially Drs. Alice Hamilton
of Harvard and Yandell Henderson of Yale, said it was an important public
health question and insisted that safer alternatives should be used (as we
will see below).

The PHS appointed an expert committee to investigate health impacts
of leaded gasoline, but they did not investigate alternatives despite reports
of their widespread use. Health investigations did find what were probably
high blood levels of lead, such as blood cell stippling, among garage mechanics
and gasoline station attendants. However, the symptoms were not advanced,
and government at the time was not strong enough, to ban leaded gasoline.
In January 1926, the expert committee issued a report stating that there was
“no good grounds for prohibiting the use of Ethyl gasoline,”
provided that its own investigation was not allowed to lapse. In fact, no
independent investigations were continued, although Ethyl financed decades
of research through the University of Cincinnati.

In 1962,
GM arranged a leveraged buyout of Ethyl by a Virginia paper company so that
the company was independent and no longer a partnership with Standard Oil
of N.J. (Exxon). In 1965 and 1966, scholarship and Congressional testimony,
especially from Clair Patterson, a California Institute of Technology geochemist.,
showed that Ethyl’s Cincinnati research was based on questionable and
probably fabricated data. (Patterson,
1965, Rosner & Markowitz,1989) 

In 1970,
GM announced its intention to build cars that would use unleaded gasoline.
 In 1972 that the Environmental Protection Agency
began a regulatory process that phased out leaded gasoline. The decision was
primarily based on the need for catalytic converters to reduce other pollutants
such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. Leaded gasoline had to be phased
out since catalytic converters are contaminated by lead. Yet public health
concerns  were also seriously considered. Many studies, especially early
studies by Herbert Needleman and associates, found children highly affected
by leaded gasoline.

The phase out process took until
1986 in the US, another 15 years in Europe and is still underway in most developing
nations.  Indonesia, one of the last, won’t phase out leaded gasoline
until 2005.

Today,
over 50 to 70 percent of children living in the inner cities like New Orleans
and Philadelphia have blood lead levels above the current guideline of 10
micrograms per deciliter.
The toxic effects of lead include damage to the
nervous system, learning impairments and behavioral problems.
High
lead levels in many urban areas are from leaded gasoline more than lead paint.
(Mielke, 1999).

Concerns about damage from widespread
lead poisoning turned out to have been  justified, as Henderson, Hamilton
and others foresaw in 1925. The story of their public health advocacy, especially
with its emphasis on alternative technologies, deserves to be remembered.

Ethyl
alcohol for spirit lamps

Use of ethyl alcohol as a fuel is
ancient, but its widespread use for indoor lighting began in the early 19th
century with spirit lamps that were improvements to candles and lanterns.


The historical myth has it that kerosene
arrived just in time to replace dwindling supplies of whale oil. In fact,
19th century illuminants included a wide variety of fuels:  vegetable
oils (castor, rapeseed, peanut); animal oils (especially whale oil and tallow
from beef or pork,); refined turpentine from pine trees; and alcohols, especially
wood alcohol (methanol or methyl alcohol) and grain alcohol (ethanol or ethyl
alcohol). By far the most popular fuel in the U.S. before petroleum was a
blend of alcohol and turpentine called “camphene” or simply “burning
fluid.” Around1860, thousands of distilleries churned out at least 90
million gallons of alcohol per year for lighting.  Camphene (at $.50
per gallon) was cheaper than whale oil ($1.30 to $2.50 per gallon) and lard
oil (90 cents per gallon). It was about the same price as coal oil, which
was the product first marketed as “kerosene” (literally “sun
fuel”).

Kerosene from petroleum was a
useful fuel when it arrived in the 1860s: it was usually not too volatile,
it burned brightly and it was fairly cheap. A gradual shift from camphene
to kerosene might have occurred.  Instead, a $2.08 per gallon tax on
alcohol was imposed in stages between 1862 and 1864 as part of the Internal
Revenue Act to pay for the Civil War. The tax was meant to apply to beverage
alcohol, but without any specific exemption, it was also applied to fuel and
industrial uses for alcohol. “The imposition of the internal-revenue
tax on distilled spirits … increased the cost of this ‘burning fluid’ beyond
the possibility of using it in competition with kerosene..,” said Rufus
F. Herrick, an engineer with the Edison Electric Testing Laboratory who wrote
one of the first books on the use of alcohol fuel in 1907.

While
a gradual shift from burning fluid (or spirit lamps) to kerosine did occur
in Europe during the last half of the 19th century, the American alcohol tax
meant that kerosene became the primary fuel virtually overnight, and the distilleries
making lamp fuel lost their markets. The tax “had the effect of upsetting
[the distilleries] and in some cases destroying them,” said IRS commissioner
David A. Wells in 1872.
1 

By 1906, a movement to repeal
the tax on non-beverage industrial uses was hailed as a new market for American
farmers. Earlier popular attempts to repeal the tax had failed on technicalities,
but the farm lobby found an ally in President Theodore Roosevelt, a bitter
foe of the oil industry.   Roosevelt said an industrial alcohol
industry provided a possible check to the depredations of the oil trust. In
April, 1906, a bill to repeal the alcohol sales tax sailed through the House
on a 224 to 7 vote with widespread support from farm-belt representatives.
Additional support came from the Temperance Party, which saw in alcohol fuel
a beneficial use for a pernicious commodity. The president of the Automobile
Club of America also supported the bill, saying:  “Gasoline is growing
scarcer, and therefore dearer, all the time… Automobiles cannot use gasoline
for all time, of that I am sure, and alcohol seems to be the best substitute
that has yet appeared.” (US House and Senate hearings on the “Free
Alcohol” bill, 1906). 

Ethyl alcohol in the early 20th century

The
idea of replacing the external combustion steam engine with an internal combustion
liquid fuel engine seized the world’s imagination in the late 19th century,
but the origins of internal combustion engines can be traced back two centuries
beforehand. Historian Lyle Cummins has noted that at least a dozen inventors
tried to develop some form of internal combustion engine by the early 19th
century. The first authentic internal combustion engine in America was developed
by Samuel Morey at the surprisingly early date of 1826. It ran on ethyl alcohol
and turpentine (camphene) and powered an experimental wagon and a small boat
at eight miles per hour up the Connecticut river. . (Cummins, 1989).

Nicholas Otto’s early prototype
of the internal combustion engine used ethyl alcohol as a fuel because it
was widely used for spirit lamps throughout Europe. He devised a carburetor
which, like Morey’s, heated the alcohol to help it vaporize as the engine
was being started. It is interesting to note that Otto’s initial financing
came from Eugen Langen, who owned a a sugar refining company that probably
had links to the alcohol markets of Europe. Of course, the Otto & Langen
company went on to success in the 1870s by producing stationary gas engines
(usually powered by coal gas) and the later “Otto-cycle” engine
was fueled primarily with gasoline but was still adaptable to alcohol or benzene
from coal.  Numerous other engine prototypes were developed using alcohol
or turpentine, including the 1870s external combustion engine developed by
US inventor George Brayton. However, at the dawn of the automotive age, kerosene
was widely available and gasoline, although volatile and dangerous for lamps,
was cheap and very much in surplus as a byproduct of kerosene refining.

During
the 1890 – 1914 time period, German, French and British scientists and government
officials were worried about the longevity of oil reserves and the unpredictable
nature of oil supplies from Russia and America. “The oil trust battles
between Rockefeller, the Rothschilds, the Nobels and Marcus Samuel’s Shell
kept prices in a state of flux, and engines often had to be adaptable to the
fuel that was available,” said Cummins. Manufacturing companies in Germany,
England and France sold engines equipped to handle a variety of fuels. In
tropical nations where oil supplies were quite irregular, and in closed environments
such as mines and factories, alcohol engines were often preferred.

With
few domestic oil reserves, France and Germany especially were eager to encourage
widespread development of a fuel that could be readily distilled from domestic
farm products. Research at the Experimental Mechanical Laboratory of Paris
and at the Deutsche Landwirtschaftliche Gesellschaft in Berlin in the 1890s
helped pave the way for expanded use of alcohol fuel. (Brachvogel, 1907).
The question of whether gasoline or alcohol was the better fuel often provoked
spirited debate, and numerous races between cars with different fuels were
held in Europe.


Scientific journals contain hundreds of references to alcohol
fuel at the dawn of the automotive era.
2   Research
during the earliest decades tended to focus on pure alcohol as a replacement
for petroleum. The focus shifted to the anti-knock (“octane” boosting)
properties of alcohol blends in gasoline during the 1915 to 1936 period because
of an increasing need for anti-knock gasoline and because of improvements
in alcohol production techniques.

Studies
of alcohol as an internal combustion engine fuel began in the U.S. with the
Edison Electric Testing Laboratory and Columbia University in 1906. Elihu
Thomson reported that despite a smaller heat or B.T.U. value, “a gallon
of alcohol will develop substantially the same power in an internal combustion
engine as a gallon of gasoline. This is owing to the superior efficiency of
operation…” (New York Times Aug. 5, 1906) Other researchers confirmed
the same phenomena around the same time.

USDA tests in 1906 also demonstrated
the efficiency of alcohol in engines and described how gasoline engines could
be modified for higher power with pure alcohol fuel or for equivalent fuel
consumption, depending on the need.  The U.S. Geological Service and
the U.S. Navy performed 2000 tests on alcohol and gasoline engines in 1907
and 1908 in Norfolk, Va. and St. Louis, Mo. They found that much higher engine
compression ratios could be achieved with alcohol than with gasoline. When
the compression ratios were adjusted for each fuel, fuel economy was virtually
equal despite the greater B.T.U. value of gasoline. “In regard to general
cleanliness, such as absence of smoke and disagreeable odors, alcohol has
many advantages over gasoline or kerosene as a fuel,” the report said.
“The exhaust from an alcohol engine is never clouded with a black or
grayish smoke.” USGS continued the comparative tests and later noted
that alcohol was “a more ideal fuel than gasoline” with better efficiency
despite the high cost. 

Ethyl Alcohol Fuel Research around World War I

The French War Office tested gasoline,
benzene and an alcohol-benzene blend in road tests in 1909, and the results
showed that benzene gave higher mileage than gasoline or the alcohol blend
in existing French trucks. The British Fuel Research Board also tested alcohol
and benzene mixtures around the turn of the century and just before World
War I, finding that alcohol blends had better thermal efficiency than gasoline
but that engines developed less brake horsepower at low rpm.  On the
other hand, a British researcher named Watson found that thermal efficiencies
for alcohol, benzene and gasoline were very nearly equal. (Monier-Williams,
1922).

During and after the war, the
British Fuel Research Board actively researched military and civilian fuels
and in1918 said that alcohol and coal based fuels could replace oil in the
post-war period.  Especially notable was the work of Eugene Ormandy and
H.R. Ricardo.  Ormandy noted the absence of technical problems with alcohol
blends, but concluded that “alcohol cannot compete with gasoline at present
prices.” Harold B. Dixon, working for the board and other governmental
departments, reported in 1920 that higher possible engine compression compensated
for alcohol’s low caloric value. A mixture of alcohol with 20 percent benzene
or gasoline “runs very smoothly, and without knocking.” Also, B.R.
Tunnison reported in 1920 the anti-knock effects of alcohol blends in gasoline
and said mileage was improved. Ormandy also noted that only five percent of
the American grain crop would meet requirements for a blended fuel. The board’s
committee on “power alcohol” (Ormandy, 1919).

Another
significant set of British experiments was performed by the London General
Omnibus Co. in 1919 comparing gasoline with blends of ethyl alcohol and benzene.
Mileage was about the same, with gasoline slightly ahead. “In all other
respects the [alcohol] fuel compared favorably with petrol [gasoline], and
exhibited the characteristics of other alcohol mixtures in respect of flexibility,
absence of knocking and cleanliness.” The bus experiment also showed
that a large scale switch from petroleum was technically feasible. “We
are fast squandering the oil that has been stored in the fuel beds, and it
seems so far as our present knowledge takes us that it is to the fuels experimented
with that we must turn for our salvation,” said the omnibus company engineer
in the SAE Journal. (Shave,1920) |

H.R.
Ricardo’s work focused in part on testing fuels at various compression ratios
up to the point where they would begin knocking, or what he termed the “highest
useful compression ratio.” Ethyl alcohol had a 7.5 value, with commercial
gasolines then available at 4.5 to 6. Ricardo also developed the Toluene Index,
which like Thomas Midgley’s “iso-octane” measured anti-knock with
a reference fuel. Ricardo concluded that the low burning rate of alcohol lessened
the tendency to knock, and that, using toluene as the reference point at 100
anti-knock, alcohol had a 130 rating. (Ricardo, 1921).
 According
to historian Stuart Leslie, Ricardo found that “ethyl alcohol never
knocked, it could be produced by distilling waste vegetable material, and
it was almost pollution-free. Ricardo compared alcohol fuel to living within
a man’s means, implying that fossil fuels were a foolish squandering
of capital.” [i]

Several
difficulties with alcohol fuels were known: cold starting, was one, and E.C.
Freeland noted that blends of small amounts of ether in alcohol could solve
the problem.(Friedland, 1925) Another problem was “phase separation,”
noted above. But the tendency of alcohol and gasoline to separate at lower
temperatures in the presence of water could be easily overcome with “binders,”
and was noted by Thomas Midgley, among others. These were small amounts of
additives such as higher-carbon alcohols (such as propyl or butyl alcohol),
ethers and / or benzene. Operating practice was also important tin dealing
with alcohol fuels. Fuel distributors were cautioned to use anhydrous (low
water content) alcohol and avoided storing alcohol-gasoline blends in tanks
with water “bottoms.” Swedish researcher E. Hubendick said that
the danger of separation “can be ignored in my estimation” because
even if it did occur, it would never stop the motor in the way that a small
amount of water in the gas tank would. (Hixon, 1933).

Scientific
Conclusions About Ethyl Alcohol

These experiments and ideas are
representative of a great deal of work underway before and after World War
I. The scientific conclusions were so definitive that even a 1915 boys’ book
entitled Modern Inventions had a chapter entitled “Alcohol Motors
and the Fuel of the Future” sandwiched amid the zeppelins and submarines.
(Johnson, 1915). Higher compression was listed as among ethyl alcohol’s advantages.

Scientific
American summed up the research in many articles during this period. Several
representative articles are cited here:

• … the fuel problem is rapidly getting more serious.
Alcohol has often been suggested, but it is not altogether satisfactory,
and the supply is not great enough to allow it to take the place of gasoline…
It has been found that a mixture of 25 percent each of gasoline and benzole
with 50 percent of alcohol works very satisfactorily in our present motors,
and as these proportions correspond fairly well with the output of various
ingredients that may be anticipated, this may prove to be the solution of
the fuel problem..”
(April 13, 1918, p.
339).

“It is now definitely established that alcohol can be blended
with gasoline to produce a suitable motor fuel that will avoid the difficulties
of starting a cold motor on alcohol alone and without any change in the
carburetor or the compression of the engine… The production of industrial
alcohol on a large scale would accordingly help materially to increase the
supply of fuel … Distilleries and breweries whose business is being
curtailed by passage of ‘dry’ laws in different states … should welcome
an opportunity to continue operation.”
(July 6, 1918).

“Increasing prices of the liquid fuels required by the motor
industry led the author to examine the patent specifications bearing on this
subject from 1913 onward … The specifications bear evidence of the universal
assumption that [ethyl] alcohol in some form will be a constituent of the
motor fuel of the future… Every chemist knows [alcohol and gasoline]
will mix, and every engineer knows [they] will drive an internal combustion
engine.”
(Dec.
11, p.593)

In short,
technical research into ethyl alcohol as a fuel tended to be extremely positive,
with few if any negative findings. By 1925, an American researcher speaking
at the New York Chemists Club said:

“Composite
fuels made simply by blending anhydrous alcohol with gasoline have been given
most comprehensive service tests extending over a period of eight years. Hundreds
of thousands of miles have been covered in standard motor car, tractor, motor
boat and aeroplane engines with highly satisfactory results… Alcohol blends
easily excel gasoline on every point important to the motorist. The superiority
of alcohol gasoline fuels is now safely established by actual experience…
[Thus] the future of alcohol motor fuels is largely an economic problem.
(Whitaker,
1925)

Discovery
of  Ethyl Leaded Gasoline


The discovery of tetraethyl lead as an antiknock additive has long been seen
as a fine example of scientifically driven research. Thomas Hughes saw the
discovery as “a beautiful [piece] of pure, or at least deliberately planned,
research” and a systematic approach to the “reverse salient,”
— a key problem in the broad front of technological progress. Engine knock
was a key problem because it occurred at the upper limit of efficiency , power
and cylinder compression in the internal combustion engines of the early 1920s.
General Motors (G.M.)  researchers Charles Kettering and  Thomas
A. Midgley “tried out all elements possible in a so-called Edisonian
style,” Hughes said. By overcoming knock,  they opened the door
to engines with almost twice the power and fuel efficiency.  Hughes saw
the discovery of Ethyl  as closer to the heart of generic questions about
invention than most other stories about  other discoveries, that have
often been “simplistic and adulatory.”(Hughes, 1979). 

Historians Joseph C. Robert, Stuart
Leslie, Joseph Pratt and David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, along with biographers
T.A. Boyd, Rosamond Young and Owen Allen, tended to focus on leaded gasoline
as the final successful step in a progression of discovery. They focused on
Ethyl brand leaded gasoline as a “success story” and paid little
or no attention to the alternative possibilities in their historical context.
Most, aside from Pratt and Rosner & Markowitz, minimized the controversy
surrounding leaded gasoline.

In recent years,
the need for a revised interpretation of the discovery has become evident.
In the first place, tetra-ethyl lead was not a “success,” and the
seeds of its failure are perfectly evident in the controversy surrounding
its birth, as we will see.  In the second place, the abundance of literature
concerning the anti-knock properties of ethyl alcohol would argue for at least
an broader view of GM research. Kettering and Midgley  did not “try
out all possible elements” to find the single solution.  In fact
, they stumbled on quite a few solutions before they found one that could
be profitably marketed.

Context
of the Discovery

 The
discovery of tetra-ethyl lead (TEL) as an anti-knock additive took place in
the context of post World War industrial expansion and new consumer expectations.
The auto and oil industries were at an important crossroads. Experts all believed
that oil was running out. Fuel quality was declining and engine knock was
an increasingly important problem. Detroit had to chart a long-term development
plan with some contingency for oil shortfalls.

From its early
years, the American automobile manufacturing industry has worried about the
possibility that oil would run out.  As early as 1906, for example, representatives
from the Detroit Board of Commerce told a U.S. Senate hearing that auto manufacturers
worried “not so much [about] cost as … supply” of fuel. (US
Senate, Free Alcohol Hearings,1906). Similar fears of oil shortages have occurred
in other periods during the 20th century. 

At the end
of World War I, demand for fuel advanced quickly while the quality of fuel
declined as lower quality reserves were brought into the market. Geologists
estimated that  only 20 or 30 years worth of oil were left in the U.S.
and a “gasoline famine” was possible or even likely. (White, 1919;
Smith, 1920). The USGS estimated US oil reserves at seven billion barrels
while consumption was at 330 million barrels per year and rapidly increasing.
(Scientific American Sept. 20 1919).  Automotive engineers worried
about “a calamity, seriously disorganizing an indispensable system of
transportation.”  (Scientific American March 8 1919).
One solution was to import foreign oil. Some would even suggest fighting for
it. (Denny, 1928). 

Another solution
was to search for an engine that was more tolerant of low-grade fuels. This
would  mean lower compression ratio engines that were less fuel efficient.
According to a March 8, 1919 article in Scientific American,:

“The burden falls upon
the engine, It must adapt itself to less volatile fuel, and it must be
made to burn the fuel with less waste…. Automotive engineers must turn
their thoughts away from questions of speed and weight… and comfort and
endurance” and focus on averting the calamity.” 

Kettering
proposes high and low percentage solutions to the fuel problem

In 1919, General
Motors decided to hire Charles F. Kettering, inventor of the electric starter
motor for automobiles and then president of the Society of Automotive Engineers.
Kettering would not only head GM’s research division, but Kettering’s
entire organization, the Dayton Metal Products Co (DMPCO – formerly
DELCO), would become the core of GM’s new research division.  The
entire research team, including fuel researchers Thomas Midgley and T.A. Boyd,
came along with Kettering.  

Kettering had
already put Midgley and Boyd to work on the problem of anti-knock fuels in
collaboration with the US Army and the US Bureau of Mines.  (DMPCO, July
27, 1918, GMI Archive).  Their report found that ethyl alcohol, benzene
and a cyclohexane fuel they called “Hecter” could be used in high
compression engines without knock. Details of the tests showed that ethyl
alcohol had the best performance.

Kettering urged
engineers to avoid compromising engine design by lowering compression ratios
and adapting engines to less volatile fuels, as Scientific American suggested
(above). In an undated (c. 1919-22) speech entitled “The Fuel Problem”
Kettering said: 

“Geologists
tell us that at our present rate of consumption the domestic supply of crude
oil will be exhausted in less than 15 years. If we could sufficiently raise
the compression of our motors … we could double the mileage and thereby
lengthen this period to 30 years.” 

But
where would automotive engineers find a fuel that would allow them to raise
engine compression? With oil running out, the better quality crude oil stocks
were being sold off, leaving lower grades of crude oil.
3

 Kettering
had two approaches in mind: the “high percentage” and the “low
percentage” additives to gasoline. Forty percent benzene was an example
of a high percentage additive which “makes an engine operate entirely
satisfactorily,” Kettering said. The low percentage solution was represented
in 1919 by an accidental discovery that one percent iodine solution in gasoline
could cut engine knock. It was too expensive and corrosive, Kettering said,
but it pointed the way to a possible low percentage solution.
(Scientific American, Oct. 11, 1919).

Iodine was impractical, but Midgley
stumbled across aniline, which also had an anti-knock effect. In October,
1920, Midgley filed a patent application on an aniline injector for engines.4 Still, the pungent aroma of aniline exhaust
clung to the air in the Dayton labs, magnifying the sense of failure.
“I doubt if humanity, even to doubling of fuel economy, will put up
with this smell,” Midgley wrote C.M. Stine of du Pont.Stine had been asked to develop plans for a
full scale production effort for aniline. Kettering conceded that du Pont
was “out of sympathy with our point of view,” and that they would
have to do something “to stimulate interest in what is today the only
known solution to the problem.”


In the spring of 1921, Kettering chanced across a newspaper article on selenium,
a potential “universal solvent.” Kettering laughed, remembering
a joke about a farmer who asked a chemist what on earth would hold a “universal”
solvent. He pocketed the news clip. When he returned to Dayton, out of the
blue, Kettering gave it to Midgley and asked him to try selenium. On April
6, 1921, at the threshold of abandoning the project, Midgley  discovered
that selenium had  an antiknock effect greater than aniline, although
it smelled worse and was highly corrosive.


The research effort shifted into a somewhat more systematic and scientific
approach.  Guided by Robert Wilson of MIT, Midgley began focusing on
groups of elements with potential antiknock effect.  He pasted a chart
of 20 elements in four groups onto a peg board and mapped the antiknock values
of each element as it was tested.   By August, 1921, preliminary
tests pointed to lead as the best “low percentage” antiknock additive.
By Dec. 9, 1921, a compound of lead suspended in alcohol had been found to
be highly effective.

Historians would later see the
peg board method as a turn from raw empiricism to a reasoned scientific method
and as marking the broader industrial transition from the “heroic”
style of invention in the mold of Edison to the more scientific, less personal
corporate inventive approach.[ii]
The unstated flip side of this analysis is difficult to ignore. How does a
corporation arrive at a public health disaster while ignoring the existence
of a perfectly useful alternative?  Would a heroic style of invention
have avoided the pitfalls that a corporate style could not?   In
any event, the individualistic nature of the GM research was not yet fully
submerged. Midgley and Boyd continued working on ethyl alcohol and other “high
percentage” solutions as well as TEL. 

Experiments
on alternatives continue at GM   

If oil was running out, what was
the point of creating anti-knock fuels? There were two motives — one public
and one private.  The public was to increase engine compression and
improve fuel efficiency.  Early press releases about TEL indicate a possible
doubling in fuel mileage.

 But the private motive,
and Kettering’s long term strategy, involved the high percentage solution
and protection of General Motors over the long term. It is most clearly stated
in the unpublished 1936 du Pont study, “The Origins and Early History
of Tetra Ethyl Lead” by N. P. Wescott of du Pont’s legal staff.
According to the study:


… An important special motive for this research was General Motors’
desire to fortify itself against the exhaustion or prohibitive cost of the
gasoline supply, which was then believed to be impending in about twenty-five
years; the thought being that the high compression motors which should be
that time have been brought into general use if knocking could be overcome
could more advantageously be switched to [ethyl] alcohol. ”

The du Pont conclusion is supported
by internal memos in the Midgley files and by public reports by researchers
Midgley and Boyd.  Alcohol was the “most direct route … for converting
energy from its source, the sun, into a material that is suitable for a fuel…”
Midgley and Boyd said in one internal memo. Advantages included cleanliness
and high antiknock rating, but disadvantages included supply problems. In
1921, about 100 million gallons of industrial alcohol supply was available.
Overall, enough corn, sugar cane and other crops were available to produce
almost twice the 1921 gasoline demand of  8.3  billion gallons per
year.  But the possibility of using such a large amount of food acreage
for fuel “seems very unlikely,” (Boyd, 1921).  In a speech
about anti-knock fuels made around 1921, Kettering noted that “industrial
alcohol can be obtained from vegetable products … [but] the present total
production of industrial alcohol amounts to less than four percent of the
fuel demands, and were it to take the place of gasoline, over half of the
total farm area of the United States would be needed to grow the vegetable
matter from which to produce this alcohol.” (Kettering, GMI Archives,
c.1921). 

This skepticism about ethyl alcohol
supply sources is anomalous. If the goal was to create antiknock additives
at the “high percentage” level, why frame the question in terms
of totally replacing gasoline? Anti knock blends of ethyl alcohol in gasoline
would not strain farm resources nearly as much as a total replacement of gasoline.
British researcher W.R. Ormandy estimated that five percent of the US grain
crop would be sufficient (Ormandy, 1919). Using Boyd’s figure, a 20
percent blend of ethyl alcohol in gasoline would have involved about nine
percent of existing grain and sugar crops. Yet it is  interesting to
note that grain was in surplus after World War I and many farmers would have
welcomed new markets. Ethyl alcohol was also in surplus after the adoption
of the 18th Amendment, which enforced Prohibition of alcohol beverages.5

Ethyl
alcohol from cellulose as the fuel of the future

Around 1920,  GM became interested
in the conversion of cellulose to fermentable sugar being performed by Prof.
Harold Hibbert at Yale University. Cellulose is a chain of glucose monomers
that is the primary component of cotton, wood, straw, paper and many other
natural fibers.   The concept of breaking down the alpha linkages
between the glucose molecules to produce food, fuels and chemicals was not
novel in the 1920s.

Hibbert pointed out that the 1920
U.S.G.S.  oil reserve report had serious implications for his work with
cellulosic fuels. “Does the average citizen understand what this means?”
he asked. “In from 10 to 20 years this country will be dependent entirely
upon outside sources for a supply of liquid fuels… paying out vast sums
yearly in order to obtain supplies of crude oil from Mexico, Russia
and Persia.”  Chemists might be able to solve the problem, Hibbert
said, by making ethanol from abundant cellulose waste – materials such
as seaweed, sawdust, corn stalks and wheat straw. (Hibbert, 1921).

In the summer of 1920, GM researcher
T.A. Boyd and his family moved to New Haven so that he could study with Hibbert.
Boyd found Hibbert impressive but the volume of scholarship concerning breakdown
of cellulose linkages through hydrolysis was overwhelming. The problem was
apparently more complex than Boyd and his boss Thomas A. Midgley realized.
When Midgley came east in late July, he was more interested in meeting Standard
Oil Co. officials than with Hibbert, and Boyd left without a clear sense of
where the cellulose research could go. (Boyd
to Midgley, July 8, 1920, GMI Archive; also Howard interview, 1960).

Boyd thought a source of alcohol
“in addition to foodstuffs” must be found, and that the source
would be cellulose: “It is readily available, it is easily produced
and its supply is renewable.” The problem was that the process was expensive,
he had learned in his stay with Hibbert.  If a cheap process could be
found,  “the danger of a serious shortage of motor fuel would disappear,”
Boyd said. “The great necessity for and the possibilities of such a
process justify a large amount of further research.”  

GM promotes alcohol fuel to SAE
members

To promote the idea of alcohol
blended fuels among automotive and chemical engineers, Midgley drove a high
compression ratio car (7:1) from Dayton to an October 1921 Society of Automotive
Engineers (SAE) meeting in Indianapolis using a 30 percent alcohol blend in
gasoline. “Alcohol has tremendous advantages and minor disadvantages,”
Midgley told fellow SAE members in a discussion. Advantages included “clean
burning and freedom from any carbon deposit… [and] tremendously high compression
under which alcohol will operate without knocking… Because of the possible
high compression, the available horsepower is much greater with alcohol than
with gasoline…” Minor disadvantages included low volatility, difficulty
starting, and difficulty in blending with gasoline “unless a binder
is used.”6

Another engineer noted that a
seven and a half percent increase in power  was found with the alcohol-gasoline
blend  “…without producing any ‘pink’ [knock] in
the engine. We have recommended the addition of 10 percent of benzol [benzene]
to our customers who have export trade that uses this type of fuel to facilitate
the mixing of the alcohol and gasoline.”[iii]

In a formal part of the presentation,
Midgley mentioned the cellulose project. “From our cellulose waste products
on the farm such as straw, corn-stalks, corn cobs and all similar sorts of
material we throw away, we can get, by present known methods, enough alcohol
to run our automotive equipment in the United States,” he said. The
catch was that it would cost two dollars per gallon. However, other alternatives
looked even more problematic — oil shale wouldn’t work, and benzene from
coal would only bring in about 20 percent of the total fuel need. (Midgley,
SAE, Oct. 1921, GMI Archives).

TEL  and
ethyl alcohol at GM 1921-22 

Midgley and Kettering’s
interest in ethyl alcohol fuel did not fade once tetraethyl lead anti-knock
was discovered in December, 1921. In fact, not only was ethyl alcohol a source
of continued interest as an antiknock agent, but it was still considered to
be the fuel that would  replace petroleum.  In May of 1922, as work
continued on developing TEL, Midgley wrote a memo to Kettering in response
to an inquiry about a report on a Mexican ethyl alcohol fuel distillery. Midgley
said: “Unquestionably alcohol is the fuel of the future and is playing
its part in tropical countries… Alcohol can be produced in those countries
for approximately 7 – 1/2 cents per gallon from many sources …”
(Midgley to Kettering, May 23, 1922, GMI Archives).

While the potential for TEL was
being considered within GM and DuPont,  Midgley and Boyd also continued
working on alcohol as the long term fuel of the future.  In a June 1922
Society of Automotive Engineers paper, they said:

That the addition of
benzene and other aromatic hydrocarbons to paraffin base gasoline greatly
reduces the tendency of these fuels to detonate [knock] … has been known
for some time. Also, it is well known that alcohol … improves the combustion
characteristics of the fuel …The scarcity and high cost of gasoline in
countries where sugar is produced and the abundance of raw materials for making
alcohol there has resulted in a rather extensive use of alcohol for motor
fuel
.  As the reserves of petroleum in this country become more and
more depleted, the use of benzene and particularly of alcohol in commercial
motor fuels will probably become greatly extended.”
  ( Note:
bold section indicates a sentence used at the oral presentation at a June
1922  SAE meeting but not published in  SAE Journal, June
1922, page 451; The oral presentation is from Midgley unprocessed files, GMI
Archives).


In September, 1922, Midgley and Boyd wrote in Industrial and Engineering
Chemistry
that “vegetation offers a source of tremendous quantities
of liquid fuel.” Cellulose from vegetation would be the primary resource
because not enough agricultural grains and other foods were available for
conversion into fuel. “Some means must be provided to bridge the threatened
gap between petroleum and the commercial production of large quantities of
liquid fuels from other sources. The best way to accomplish this is to increase
the efficiency with which the energy of gasoline is used and thereby obtain
more automotive miles per gallon of fuel.” (Midgley, Sept. 1922).
At the time the paper was written, in late spring or early summer 1922, TEL
was still a secret within the company, but it was  announced that summer
to fellow scientists. The reference to a means to “bridge the threatened
gap” and increase in the efficiency of gasoline clearly implies the use
of TEL or some other additive to pave the way to new fuel sources.

As interest in TEL in GM and duPont
grew and ties to the oil industry increased, the original strategy of replacing
dwindling petroleum with alcohol seems to have faded.  Still, TEL was
not ready and other anti-knock fuels certainly were available, as Kettering,
Midgley and Boyd knew.  In  1923, Midgley wrote to Navy Lt. B.G.
Leighten warning him not to use TEL  on a round-the-world flight but
instead to use a blended fuel.  TEL was giving spark plug and valve trouble,
he said, and “the best possibilities are offered by a fuel consisting
of a gasoline-benzol-alcohol blend. (Midgley, March16, 1923, GMI Archives).

The
refinery disasters 

The story of
how GM’s magic antiknock fluid killed 17 workers in the Standard Oil refinery
at Bayway, N.J. and the du Pont refinery in Deepwater, N.J. has been recounted
elsewhere (Rosner & Markowitz, 1989, Kovarik, 1993, 1994).  Briefly,
five Bayway workers went “violently insane” after working at the
new TEL plant and died from severe lead poisoning. The media quickly learned
about the mysterious poisonings and wrote articles which reflected concern
but hardly seem hysterical, as claimed by Ethyl apologists.

The city of
New York and several states banned leaded gasoline, and after a few weeks,
the public outcry forced Ethyl to take leaded gasoline off the market. Public
health scientists, especially Yandell Henderson of Yale spoke out against
TEL.

“Breathing
day by day of the fine dust from automobiles will produce chronic lead poisoning
on a large scale…” 
The problem
was
“… the greatest single question in the field of public
health which has ever faced the American public …  Perhaps if leaded
gasoline kills enough people soon enough to impress the public, we may get
from Congress a much needed law and appropriation for control of harmful substances
other than foods. But it seems more likely that the conditions will grow worse
so gradually and the development of lead poisoning will come on so insidiously
… that leaded gasoline will be in nearly universal use and large numbers
of cars will have been sold that can only run on that fuel before the public
and the government awaken to the situation.” 
The question is whether “commercial
interests are to be allowed to subordinate every other consideration to that
of profit. It is not a matter of millions or even hundreds of millions of
dollars, but literally billions
.”
(NY Times April 22, 1925)

In response,
Midgley said that Henderson was confusing pure TEL with diluted TEL, which
had no immediately poisonous effect on people. Henderson was merely a disappointed
consultant who didn’t get an Ethyl contract. Henderson shot back that he had
warned Midgley and GM years before that any investigation “would scarcely
fail to show that the public use of leaded gasoline would involve an intolerable
hazard to public health.” (NY Times, April 24, 1925)

Thus, claims
(eg, Robert, 1983) that GM was not aware of the potential danger fail in the
face of evidence of dire warnings from Henderson and from other scientists
(Boyd, 1943), from the Public Health Service (Rosner & Markowitz, 1989)
and from du Pont engineers (US v. E.I du Pont). One du Pont attorney, reflecting
the bitterness of the internal Ethyl controversy, severely criticized the
Standard Oil / General Motors design and operation of the Bayway plant.


“They put up a plant that lasted two months and killed five people and
practically wiped out the rest of the plant. The disaster was so bad that
the state of New Jersey entered the picture and issued an order that Standard
could never go back into the manufacture of this material without the permission
of the state of New Jersey…”  

Even Midgley
had lead poisoning from attempts to manufacture small batches of TEL in Dayton
Ohio. By the spring of 1925, two refineries were half closed and the Ethyl
issue had created chaos in GM, Standard and du Pont.  Kettering, who
had been in Europe, returned and started tests on an I.G. Farben additive
called iron carbonyl and another GM fuel additive called “Synthol.”

GM
Contradicts Its Own Research

Despite the
many examples of research pointed in the direction of the “fuel of the
future,”  GM researcher Thomas Midgley and his boss Charles Kettering
categorically denied the existence of alternatives to TEL after the refinery
disasters.  The statements were not equivocal. No mention or admission
of any alternative whatsoever is given, with the small exception of Kettering’s
PHS statement.  

As noted above,
in 1923, Midgley  wrote in SEJ Journal: “ It is well known that
alcohol … improves the combustion characteristics of the fuel
,”
In 1925, he was a featured speaker at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
He said:   

“So far as science knows
at the present time, tetraethyl lead is the only material available which
can bring about these [antiknock] results, which are of vital importance to
the continued economic use by the general public of all automotive equipment,
and unless a grave and inescapable hazard exists in the manufacture of tetraethyl
lead, its abandonment cannot be justified.”
(New York Times, April 7, 1925; also Midgley Aug. 1925).

At the Public Health Service conference
on the dangers of leaded gasoline on May 20,1925, Kettering also denied that
any viable alternatives to TEL existed: 

“We
could produce certain [antiknock] results and with the higher gravity gasolines,
the aromatic series of compounds, alcohols, etc. [to] get the high compression
without the knock, but in the great volume of fuel of the paraffin series
[petroleum] we could not do that.”
(US PHS, 1925, p 6).

Dr. Robert
Kehoe, medical consultant to Ethyl from the University of Cincinnatti also
spoke at the PHS conference: 

“…when
a material is found to be of this importance for the conservation of fuel
and for increasing the efficiency of the automobile, it is not a thing which
may be thrown into the discard on the basis of opinion.”

(US PHS, 1925, p 70).


Kehoe also said that there was no real difference of opinion at the conference
between industry and public health because the fate of TEL was not in the
hands of industries but rather “in the hands of medical men who have
the public interest at heart”  — such as himself. And he promised
that he and Ethyl would protect the public interest:

“If
it can be shown … that an actual hazard exists in the handling of ethyl
gasoline, that an actual hazard exists from exhaust gasses from motors, that
an actual danger to the public is had as a result of the treatment of the
gasoline with lead, the distribution of gasoline with lead in it will be discontinued
from that moment. Of that there is no question.”
  (US
PHS, 1925, p 70).

The
testimony of Frank Howard of Standard Oil was most dramatic and emphatic about
the need for TEL and the lack of alternatives:

“Our
continued development of motor fuels is essential in our civilization… Now,
after 10 years research … we have this apparent gift of God which enables
us to [conserve oil] … We cannot justify ourselves in our consciences if
we abandon the thing.”
(US PHS, 1925, p.105)
7

These claims drew strong rebuttals.
Alice Hamilton of Harvard told the PHS conference:  “I am utterly
unwilling to believe that the only substance which can be used to take the
knock out of a gasoline engine is TEL.”  (US PHS, 1925, p 99)
“Our best hope is that some non-poisonous substitute for TEL be found,”
she said a month later (Hamilton, June 1925). Yandell Henderson also noted
that “lead is not by any means the only substance which, on theoretical
grounds , or even on the basis of experiments, can be used as an antiknock
medium…[Researchers at Yale University] believe that there are other
chemical and engineering possibilities.” (US PHS, 1925, p. 63).

Information about alternatives
could have emerged with more force at this moment to contradict Midgley, Kettering,
Howard and Kehoe. In the first place, news reports in advance of the PHS conference
noted that it was to last several days in order to consider alternatives to
TEL (Kovarik, 1993). This is partially corroborated by Surgeon General’s
opening statement that the conference would last several days, even though
the conference ended on the first day. In the second place, a report published
but not released by the Dept. of Commerce only a few days before showed that
alternative antiknock additives (mostly ethyl alcohol blends in gasoline)
were being used routinely in two dozen other industrial nations. (Fox, 1925).
And in any event, anyone familiar with Midgley and Boyd’s papers of
1921 and 1922 would see that they were flatly contradicting their own published
research.   

The New York World newspaper also
said:

Original plans had called for presentation to the Public Health conference
of claims of various persons that they have discovered dopes [additives]
for fuels which are as efficient as lead but lack the danger. The conference
decided at the last minute, however, that such things were not in its province,
since it was called to consider only the danger of lead and not the lack of
danger of any other chemical or mineral. For this reason, the conference adjourned
after only a one day meeting, where it had been thought at first that four
or five days might be taken. Many of the delegates to it held informal conferences
today, however, at which fuel dopes were discussed.

(NY World, May 22, 1925)

However, for reasons unknown,
information about alternatives did not emerge except in a few statements by
public health scientists and hints in the media. No record of any dissent
exists, even though the industry flatly contradicted its own previous research.

Public Health
Service Appoints Expert Committee

The result of the May 20, 1925
PHS conference was the appointment of a committee of experts to study the
problem. The committee was composed of independent scientists from Johns Hopkins,
Harvard, Yale, Vanderbilt and the Universities of Chicago and Minnesota.8
Hamilton and Henderson were not asked to join the committee, but senior colleagues
at their institutions were. The Ethyl Corp. agreed to stop marketing Ethyl
gasoline until their report had been completed.


The committee did not directly supervise the study and voiced some objections
at the end of the course of the study which were never made public. The committee
met June 14 and June 28 to consider the design of the study and corresponded
with the P.H.S. on the plan of investigation during the summer. [iv]


The study began in October, 1925,  conducted by J.P. Leake of the P.H.S.
Hygiene Laboratory. The site of the study would be two garages in Dayton,
Ohio — one using leaded gasoline and one not using leaded gasoline — were
to be selected and the employees tested for blood stippling and fecal lead
accumulation. Two more garages in Washington, D.C. were to have been added
to the list “if time and personnel permit,” according to the preliminary
plan. It did not. Two groups of Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio workers (one of
drivers and one of mechanics) who had been exposed to leaded gasoline were
compared with two similar groups that had not been exposed. A control group
of men working in lead industries was also examined.  

Researchers found that drivers
exposed to leaded gasoline showed somewhat higher “stippling” damage
to red blood cells, while garage workers exposed to leaded gasoline showed
much more damage to red blood cells, and one quarter of those exposed had
over one milligram of lead in fecal samples. In comparison, over 80 percent
of the industrial workers showed large amounts of lead in fecal samples. Although
techniques for measuring lead levels were primitive in contrast with today’s
standards, it is probable that workers with blood damage and high amounts
of lead in fecal samples had absorbed amounts of lead that would today be
considered dangerous, according to toxicologist and lead historian Jerome
Niragu.9  

TABLE I

SURGEON
GENERAL’S COMMITTEE

ETHYL
TEST RESULTS

                       

Control
Ethyl

Control
Ethyl
Industrial

                       

chauffeur
chauffeur
garage
garage      worker

                                                                       

worker

worker     (non-Ethyl exposure)

No.men
36
77
21
57
61

% showing

definite

stippling
12
12
24
46
93

% showing over

./3 mg. lead per

gram ash

6

2

6

14

81

Clinical

symptoms

0

0

0

0

23

Source: Anon, (probably J.P. Leake),
Draft report to Committee on Tetra Ethyl Lead, December 22, 1925, C.E.A. Winslow
papers,  Box 101, Folder 1801, Yale University Library, New Haven, Ct.


The most important finding of the committee was that none of the garage workers
and drivers had any of the outright symptoms of lead poisoning that killed
17 refinery workers and poisoned at least several hundred more between 1923
and 1925. As a result, the committee concluded that there were “no good
grounds for prohibiting the use of Ethyl gasoline.” Not all the committee
members agreed with that assessment. In a meeting on December  22, 1925,
committee member David L. Edsall of Harvard objected that “we would
be presenting a half-baked report” unless the committee studied “the
effects this is going to have on others.”  Reed Hunt of Harvard
noted that the “big question” was whether the committee should
absolutely prohibit tetraethyl lead or not. “If we say we shouldn’t
absolutely prohibit it, then we should say that money should be appropriated
to study any further hazard.”   C.E.A.
Winslow of Yale insisted on and got the following statement inserted into
the report:  “A more extensive study was not possible in view of
the limited time allowed to the committee.”


In the end, the report warned that the uncertain danger and the incomplete
data did not lead it to a definite conclusion:


Owing to the incompleteness of the data, it is not possible to say definitely
whether exposure to lead dust increases in garages when tetraethyl lead is
used. It is very desirable that these investigations be continued… It remains
possible that if the use of leaded gasolines becomes widespread, conditions
may arise very different from those studied by us which would render its use
more of a hazard than would appear to be the case from this investigation.
Longer exposure may show that even such slight storage of lead as was observed
in these studies may lead eventually in susceptible individuals to recognizable
lead poisoning or chronic degenerative disease of obvious character… The
committee feels this investigation must not be allowed to lapse.


Winslow also recommended that the “search for and investigation of antiknock
compounds be continued intensively with the object of securing effective agents
containing less poisonous metals (such as iron, nickle, tin, etc.) or no metals
at all.”  The recommendation was based on correspondence with Ford
Motor Co. that Winslow forwarded to  L.R. Thompson of the Public Health
Service, asking that a file be established on alternatives. The letter to
Winslow reads as follows:


August 15, 1925

ALCOHOL FOR MOTOR FUEL

Further to my letter of June 19th:

You may probably have observed the production of synthetic alcohol as brought
out by the Badische Anilin and Soda Fabrik [BASF of I.G. Farben], now being
produced in Germany at the rate of 60,000 gallons per month. Such alcohol
is reported to be produced for between 10 cents and 20 cents per gallon
and has much promise as a mixture with hydrocarbon fuels to eliminate knocking
and carbonization.

                       

(signed) Wm. H. Smith,  Ford Motor Co.


The letter, clearly, is a fragment of more extensive correspondence that was
not saved in the Public Health Service or Winslow files. Winslow’s recommendation
about continuing the search was not incorporated in the final committee report.
Although disappointed in the report, Winslow wrote Henderson, who was in England
in the winter of 1925, that he “did not see how things could have gone
differently.” 


Meanwhile, Ethyl officials announced that they had been vindicated, and after
agreeing to warning labels on leaded gasoline, began to market it again in
the spring of 1926. These warning labels would become familiar to three generations
of motorists and would appear in virtually every gasoline service station
in America: “Contains lead (tetraethyl) and is to be used as a motor
fuel only. Not for cleaning or any other use.” 

Other
sources of competition with TEL

Ethyl alcohol was not the only
competitor for the anti-knock additive market.  Public claims about a
lack of alternatives notwithstanding, Frank Howard of Standard privately wrote
Kettering of Ethyl / GM that “there are three major types of Ethyl Gasoline
substitutes now on the market, as follows: 1. vapor phase cracked products
2. Benzol blends. 3. Gasoline from napthenic-base crudes.”  The
competition from benzene blends in gasoline was so strong in the Baltimore
area, Howard said, that they “were not able to get out of the [benzene
blended gasoline] market entirely even when we had Ethyl gasoline, since some
of the trade demanded this blend.” He did promise, however, not to aggressively
market benzene blends. (Howard to Kettering, Sept. 25, 1925, GMI Archives).

Kettering’s interest in
potential alternatives had not waned in 1925, as shown in his announcement
about “Synthol” fuel blend. (NY Times, Aug. 7, 1925). The
substance was described as TEL and benzene made from coal, shale or oil.
At the time, Kettering may have been reacting to his dismissal from his position
as president of Ethyl Corp. in April, 1925 and possibly as well to news that
the Ethyl Corp. would set up a separate research division. In any event, by
Oct. 1, Kettering had changed his tune, saying that there was no economical
substitute for gasoline on the horizon.  (NY Times, Oct. 1, 1925).

Another source of potential competition
came from Germany.  In October 1924, Kettering visited the German chemical
coglomerate I.G. Farben and one of its chief scientists Karl Bosch.
During the visit, Bosch gave him a sample of another anti-knock additive,
probably nickel or iron carbonyl, to take back to America. Eventually, du
Pont would buy patent rights from Farben, but iron carbonyl was never marketed
in the US.

Yet another “substitute”
for tetraethyl lead known to Kettering and the automotive industry were the
I.G. Farben  / BASF Fischer-Tropsche and Bergius processes for making
synthetic fuels from coal.  This was such serious competition that a
few years later Standard entered into a “full marriage” agreement
with Farben in which Standard agreed to stay out of the world chemical business
and Farben agreed to stay out of the world fuel business no matter how World
War II progressed (Borkin, 1978, p. 79).


The wide variety of alternatives and substitutes known in the 1920s and 30s
were utterly forgotten by the 1960s.  Histories of the oil industry (esp.
Williamson & Daum, 1959, but also Giddens 1983 and Yergin, 1992) omitted
any mention of alternatives. In 1974, when Thomas Reed of MIT began his pathbreaking
investigating alcohol fuel as an alternative to gasoline in the wake of the
Arab oil embargo, he was unaware of any other similar work before him. It
was as if, having found in TEL the one solution to the engine knock problem,
no other solution – and no other history – was necessary.

Ethyl alcohol
versus Ethyl leaded gasoline: competition and anti-trust in the 1930s

Direct comparison between leaded
gasoline and alcohol blends proved so controversial  in the 1920s and
1930s that government studies were kept quiet or not published.  As already
noted, a Commerce Department report dated May 15, 1925 detailed dozens of
instances of ethyl alcohol as an anti-knock fuel worldwide. The report was
printed only five days before the Surgeon General’s hearing on Ethyl leaded
gasoline. Yet it was never mentioned in the news media of the time, nor was
it mentioned in extensive bibliographies on alcohol fuel by Iowa State University
researchers compiled in the 1930s. Another instance of a “buried”
government report was that of USDA and Navy engine tests, conducted at the
engineering experiment station in Annapolis. Researchers found that Ethyl
leaded gasoline and 20 percent ethyl alcohol blends in gasoline were almost
exactly equivalent in terms of brake horsepower and useful compression ratios.
The 1933 report was never published.

When renewed enthusiasm for ethyl
alcohol blends emerged in the Midwest during the Depression, the oil industry
fought to portray the idea as a crackpot scheme to burn corn and to turn gas
stations into illegal alcohol beverage “speakeasies.” One service
station owner who blended “corn alcohol” and gasoline in Lincoln,
Nebraska was undercut in his market and nearly forced into bankruptcy. His
case was one of the complaints that brought on the anti-trust case against
Ethyl Corp. in 1937. 

It is interesting that, in the
preliminary investigation, the Justice Department asserted that the catalytic
cracking process was “the only available competing method of increasing
the anti-knock rating of gasoline…” [v]
But in a stipulation, Ethyl rebutted with this statement: 


High anti-knock values may be and are also obtained by the addition to
gasoline of benzol and alcohol, but insufficient quantities of the former
are available to permit its use in any large amount of gasoline … while
the use of alcohol is relatively new in the United States, though it has been
used extensively abroad for many years.[vi]

At this point, Ethyl leaded gasoline
was used in 70 percent or more of American gasoline (90 percent according
to Ethyl’s advertising)  and in all but one major brand  — Sunoco.
Despite the market success, only 10,000 of the 12,000 wholesale fuel dealers
in the US  received licenses to carry Ethyl products. Dealers who cut
prices or who used alcohol or benzene in other fuels were not allowed to wholesale
Ethyl’s lead additive. “It seems clear that the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation
has exercised its dominant control over the use of Ethyl fluid substantially
to restrain competition by regulating the ability of jobbers to buy and sell
gasoline treated with ethyl fluid and by requiring jobbers and dealers to
maintain certain prices and marketing policies…” a 1937 Department
of Justice memo said.[vii]   Ethyl
lost the suit at the Federal District Court level in 1938 and at the Supreme
Court in 1940. The company was ordered to make the product available to any
customer who met minimum technical criteria.[viii]


Even so, by the  mid-1930s, Ethyl leaded gasoline succeeded beyond all
expectations. Public health crusaders who found this troubling still spoke
out in political forums, but competitors were not allowed to criticize leaded
gasoline in the commercial marketplace. In a restraining order forbidding
such criticism, the Federal Trade Commission told competitors to stop criticizing
Ethyl gasoline since it  “is entirely safe to the health of [motorists]
and to the public in general when used as a motor fuel, and is not a narcotic
in its effect, a poisonous dope, or dangerous to the life or health of a customer,
purchaser, user or the general public.” (US FTC 1936).

U.S.
ethyl alcohol fuels 1920s and 30s


Ethyl alcohol fuel blended with gasoline was adopted in isolated instances
during the 1920s and early 1930s.  Among the little-known blends were
“Alcogas” of New England; “Vegaline,”  from Spokane,
Washington;  and an unlabelled alcohol blend test marketed by Standard
Oil in Baltimore.  Standard said “difficulties …  of
a marketing and car operating nature” involving phase separation of gasoline
and alcohol in the presence of water

By the 1930s, with the country
caught in the depths of the Great Depression, new ideas were welcome. Corn
prices had dropped from 45 cents per bushel to 10 cents, it was only natural
that people in Midwestern business and science would begin thinking about
new uses for farm products. Many proposals from this line of thinking have
been successful.  Ethyl alcohol fuel turned out to be the most controversial.
The battle between U.S. farmers and the oil industry in the 1930s over alcohol
fuel has  been reviewed by others (Giebelhaus,1980;
Bernton,1981, Elfland, 1995; and Wright, 1995).


Many scientists, businessmen and farmers believed that making fuel from corn
and cornstalks would help put people back to work and ease the severe problems
of the Depression. Nearly three dozen bills to subsidize alcohol fuel were
taken up in eight states in the 1930s.  Most of the subsidy proposals
involved forgiveness of state sales taxes. Not surprisingly, the incentives
had the most support in the central farm states  such as Iowa, Nebraska,
Illinois and South Dakota.  Legislation did pass in Nebraska and South
Dakota, but the tax break passed by the Iowa legislature was struck down by
the state supreme court. The Nebraska legislature also petitioned the US Congress
for a law making 10 percent ethyl alcohol blending mandatory throughout the
US.  This proposal, along with a national tax incentive and other pro-alcohol
bills, were defeated in Congress in the 1930s. 


The thinking behind these proposals had little to do with energy substitution.
Rather, it was “a form of farm relief and not energy relief,” said
Ralph Hixon, who along with Leo Christensen and others in  Iowa State
University’s chemistry department, had been testing blends of alcohol and
gasoline. “We found that it was one of the very best fuels, it gave a
performance greater than Ethyl [leaded gasoline],” Hixon said.
The Ames chemists worked with local gasoline retailers to put a 10 percent
ethyl alcohol blend with gasoline on sale in Ames service stations in 1932.
The alcohol-gasoline pump at the Square Deal stations operated until the late
1930s,  and the blend sold for 17 cents. It was “in competition
with Ethyl,” which also sold for 17 cents at the same  stations.[ix]
Some 200,000 gallons of Agricultural Blended Motor Fuel were eventually sold
in an Iowa campaign in the early 1930s.[x]


Similar efforts took place in many regions of the Midwest.  In Lincoln,
Nebraska, the Earle Coryell gasoline company marketed several hundred thousand
gallons of “Corn Alcohol  Gasoline Blend.” In Peoria, Illinois,
the Illinois Agricultural Association teamed up with Keystone Steel &
Wire Co. and Hiram Walker distillery to produce half a million gallons of
“HiBall” and “Alcolene” blended fuels. In Yankton, South
Dakota, Gurney Oil Co. marketed 200,000 gallons of blended fuel.


After legislative setbacks in 1933, the movement for alcohol fuels then came
to be seen as part of a broader campaign for industrial uses for farm crops
to help fight the Depression. It was called “farm chemurgy,” and
it was, in part, a populist Republican alternative to Democratic President
Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s agricultural policies.  Henry Ford
backed the idea by sponsoring a  conference at Dearborn, Mich. in 1935.
The conference created the National Farm Chemurgic Council, and annual conferences
followed.[xi]


Another key supporter of the farm chemurgy concept was the Chemical Foundation,
quasi-federal agency which administered  German patent royalties as part
of reparations for World War I.  The Chemical Foundation, with Ford’s
blessing, decided in 1936 to finance an experimental alcohol manufacturing
and blending program in the Midwest. The chemurgy movement, with alcohol fuel
as a controversial centerpiece, had far outstripping original legislative
proposals and had grown into an unprecedented mixture of agronomy, chemistry
and Prairie Populism. Many felt that the time had come to compete directly
with the oil industry. By 1937 motorists from Indiana to South Dakota were
urged to use Agrol, an ethyl alcohol blend with gasoline.  Two types
were available — Agrol 5, with five to seven percent  alcohol, and Agrol
10, with twelve and a half to 17 and a half percent alcohol.  “Try
a tankfull — you’ll be thankful,” the Agrol brochures said. The
blend was sold to high initial enthusiasm at 2,000 service stations. However,
Agrol plant managers complained of sabotage and bitter infighting by the oil
industry,[xii]
and market prices were also a major influence. Although Agrol sold for the
same price as its “main competitor,” leaded gasoline, it cost wholesalers
and retailers an extra penny to handle it and cut into their profit “spread,”
 Business Week said.  “Novelty appeal plus ballyhoo
provided sufficient increase in gallonage to offset the difference in spread.
Now jobbers and dealers, having done their share, are again plugging the old
house brands with four and a half cent spreads. Agrol is in the last pump
— for those who want it.”


By 1939, the Atchison Agrol plant closed its doors, not in bankruptcy, but
without viable markets to continue. The experiment had failed, but it was
not the end of the story. Chemists and agricultural engineers from Midwestern
universities who had tried their alcohol production ideas at the Agrol plant
would be mass producing enormous quantities of ethyl alcohol for synthetic
“Buna-S” rubber and for aviation fuel. From a pre-war peak production
of 100 million gallons of alcohol per year, well over 600 million gallons
of new capacity was created. The alcohol based system which in 1942 seemed
capable of  providing only one-third of the raw materials for the total
synthetic rubber demand ended up supplying three quarters and making a significant
impact on the war effort. In contrast, petroleum based synthetic rubber technologies
had been blocked through patent agreements between Standard Oil and Germany’s
I.G. Farben at the critical moment. Without the previous experience in alcohol
fuels production in the 1930s, the war effort might have been considerably
delayed.


It was clear at the end of World War II that eventually US oil reserves would
be depleted. According to the US Tariff Commission in 1944:


“When a certain point in costs has been reached, several methods of
meeting the situation will be available: These include: increased importation
of petroleum; more complete recovery of domestic petroleum from the ground
by various so-called secondary methods; conversion of natural gas into gasoline;
extraction of oil from shale; synthesis of oil from coal; domestic production
of alcohol from vegetable materials; and foreign production of such alcohol.”

Ethyl
alcohol in Europe in the 1930s

Once Ethyl leaded gasoline was
back on the US market, international marketing campaigns could begin. But
the Europeans were wary since alternatives had been employed as a matter of
government policy for many years. In France, the combination of defense needs
and farm surplus led the government to require the use of alcohol blends in
most gasoline beginning in 1923. Many other European governments supported
either farm-based ethanol (ethyl alcohol) or coal-derived methyl alcohol.
The support included tax incentives and mandatory blending programs or both.

Ten to twenty five percent alcohol
blends with gasoline were common in Scandinavian countries, where alcohol
was  made from paper mill wastes; in France, Germany and throughout continental
Europe, where alcohol was made from surplus grapes, potatoes and other crops;
and in Australia, Brazil, Cuba, Hawaii, the Philippians,  South Africa,
and other tropical regions, where it was made from sugar cane and molasses.
In some countries, especially France, gasoline retailers were required to
blend in large volumes of alcohol with all gasoline sold. Germany, Brazil
and others also followed the “mandatory blending” model.
In other countries, such as Sweden, Ireland and Britain, alcohol blends received
tax advantages

With these programs in place,
Ethyl leaded gasoline had an uphill battle. Charles Schweitzer, a Melle research
chemist noted that “the health properties of lead tetraethyl constitute
an obstacle in its general use,” and that the French minister of hygiene
said using it on crowded streets constituted a hazard.(Schweitzer, 1932) 


Conflict also broke out over use of Ethyl gasoline in Britain. The Daily
Mail
quoted a number of British scientists as saying that leaded gasoline
posed a public health hazard in 1928. These reports were sent by Ethyl Corp.
to US Surgeon General Hugh Cumming. “Your courtesy in keeping us informed
of such developments is helpful and I am grateful for its continuance,”
Cumming wrote Ethyl president Earl Webb. Cumming was somewhat more than grateful.
In 1931, he cabled his office from a conference in Paris: “Have Leake
and Bevan send Carriere our and British Reports. Favorable outlook.”
Leake and Bevan were PHS employees, while Carriere was the Swiss minister
of health, according to a PHS memo attached to the cable.  The memo also
said: “Of course, this refers to Ethyl Gasoline.”10 Apparently Ethyl was such a high priority
that the Surgeon General could cable home from a European meeting and simply
refer to “reports” and have it be known that he referred “of
course” to Ethyl. Cumming had moved from cooperation to enthusiastic
boosterism, writing dozens of letters touting Ethyl leaded gasoline to public
health leaders around the world and giving his endorsement to the preliminary
expert committee report as assuring the safety of leaded gasoline. The fact
that Cumming reported to Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, whose Gulf Oil
Co. had exclusive contracts to distribute Ethyl gasoline in the Southeastern
U.S., may have had something to do with his enthusiasm. 


The use of Ethyl in Europe was so strongly backed by the US government that
when production facilities were scheduled for Germany, as part of the I.G.
Farben – Standard Oil cartel agreement, few in the US government thought
to object. 

Conclusion
 

Ancient
Greek historians approached their work with two very distinct motivations.
Around 430 BC, Herodotus, the “father” of history, wrote in order
to “honor the heroes” of the Trojan Wars. Thirty years later, Thucydides
wrote the History of the Peloponnesian War. He did not write to honor heroes,
but rather was interested in helping future generations learn from the past.
He wrote history “not … to win the applause of the moment, but
as a possession for all time.”

Most histories of the Ethyl controversy
have been written in the style that tried to honor the heroes of the industrial
revolution – the Watts, the Morses, the Edisons, the Bells and the Fords.
To put it plainly, the saga of Ethyl leaded gasoline was mistakenly pounded
into the same mold.  

It still is found in this form.
In 1996, for instance, an article in Invention and Technology about Charles
Kettering had this to say about the Ethyl conflict

“An outcry arose over the
possibility that tetraethyl lead could cause lead poisoning… the hubbub
died down… and health agencies assured the public that leaded gasoline
posed no danger.”

It is remarkable that anyone could
write this in 1996. The “possibility” of danger is a proven fact,
universally endorsed by medical authorities and enforced by courts. It is
remarkable that the tumultuous issues involved could be minimized as “hubbub.”
And it is bizarre that health agencies could be calmly seen as reassuring
the public about what is now recognized as a dire poison. 

Yet even critical histories  concerning
Du Pont, Ethyl and Charles F. Kettering’s development of TEL published before
1991 suffer from the serious handicap of being based on secondary memoirs
or tertiary documents rather than any primary documents. The detailed documentation
historians might expect concerning a discovery of the magnitude of TEL was
simply not in the archives. None of Kettering and Midgley’s  primary
documentation — lab notebooks, correspondence, reports, minutes of meetings,
expense files, itineraries, diaries and so on —  were available in any
public archive until 1991.

In 1991, about 80 boxes of unclassified,
incomplete and highly disorganized files from the office of Thomas Midgley
were released by General Motors to the General Motors Institute Alumni Foundation
Collection of Industrial History (now part of Kettering University) in Flint,
Mich.  These files, all over 50 years old, contained letters and draft
reports from the 1920s but not any of the final reports or the formal record
of the progress towards the discovery of TEL. Most significantly, the Midgley
documents did not contain what  Ethyl researcher T.A. Boyd called the
“Lead Diary,” a collection of several
thousand original documents from which he and founding Ethyl president Charles
Kettering refreshed their memories as their memoirs were being written in
the 1940s.
 

However, the Midgley files are
still the largest public source of original primary documents available to
historians concerned with TEL and have been enormously valuable in showing
some of the research motivations at the Dayton labs in the early 1920s.

These primary documents have influenced,
for example, the Nation magazine (Kitman, 2000) and high level US policy.
For example, in a 1999 Foreign Policy article, US Sen. Richard Lugar
and Adm.
R. James Woolsey note that ethanol was ” briefly considered
as a large-scale additive to gasoline to stop the knocking of the new higher
compression engines.”  Ethanol lost to tetraethyl lead for economic
reasons, they said. “Ethanol’s ability to be an effective fuel, however,
was never an issue.” (Lugar, 1999)  

Leaded gasoline created enormous
profits for a few people at the expense of the health of the many. The history
of the Ethyl conflict  shows what can happen when the precautionary principle
is ignored and when the absence of negative information about a chemical is
mistaken as a “clean bill of health,” as Ethyl claimed it had received.

Ethyl leaded gasoline crashed
through the modest defenses of the American public health system of the 1920s
not only through brute force of industry’s political influence over government
but also due to the disorganized information resources available to public
health advocates. 

These advocates, Alice Hamilton
and Yandell Henderson especially, believed that the Achilles heel of Ethyl
leaded gasoline might have been a better understanding of  alternatives.
Their “best hope” was that a non-poisonous alternative be found.
This vague statement shows their inability to directly argue the point, but
their insistence on the point shows its importance.

It is ironic, to say the least,
that the information resources about the public health objections to leaded
gasoline and the alternatives to TEL were forgotten in the 1970s and 80s,
or even that those of the 1970s could be forgotten in 1996.  It would
be hard to find a more apt illustration of Santayana’s aphorism that those
who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. 

In many modern public health controversies,
such as those involving MTBE, severe reforming (air toxics), dioxins, asbestos,
silicosis, pesticides, nuclear power and others, alternative technologies
often exist and are well known to the industries in question.  They are
frequently within the same cost range, sometimes even cheaper, but for some
reason are not as attractive as trading off the costs for the health of workers
and the public. The  alternatives are disparaged as absurd or unworthy
or crackpot ideas.   

All too often, environmental battles
are fought over regulatory schemes for existing products rather than the broader
questions of the roads not taken in developing products for the uses and markets
those industries serve. Examination of these roads not taken is one of the
areas where environmental history can serve not only to better our understanding
of the past, but also to show how we can be more cautious about our future.




Footnotes

1 It is interesting to note
that the petroleum industry, which has objected to tax advantages for competing
forms of energy in the late 20th century, was itself born in the 1860s with
a distinct tax advantage over its primary competitor.
 

2 Some 152 popular and scholarly articles under
the heading “Alcohol as a Fuel” can be found the Readers Guide
to Periodical Literature
  between 1900 and 1921; about 20 references
to papers and books written before 1925 are found in the Library of Congress
card catalog;  a 1933 Chemical Foundation report lists 52 references
before 1925 on alcohol fuels; a 1944 Senate report lists 24 USDA publications
on alcohol fuels before 1920; and several technical books from the period
document hundreds of additional references from the 1900 – 1925 period.

3At the time, refiners were more dependent on
the type of crude oil they used to achieve a high anti-knock quality gasoline.
Within a few years, thermal cracking would become widespread, and by the mid-1930s,
catalytic cracking would be introduced. In the end, refinery technologies
were far more significant in raising the general “octane” number
of gasoline than was TEL. 

4 Application Serial No. 417,126, filed Oct. 15, 1920,
Patent No. 1,501,568 issued July 16, 1924.

5 Prohibition has been blamed for the lack
of ethyl alcohol’s success as a fuel in the 1920s, but it is important to
note that this seems to involve concerns about illegal diversions of pure
alcohol or the dangers of beverage use of alcohol – gasoline mixtures.
Henry Ford and many oil industry leaders supported Prohibition even though
Ford saw ethyl alcohol as the fuel of the future and the oil industry saw
it as a threat. 

6  This is an important point in technical
discussions. Many who object to alcohol fuel on technical grounds will omit
any mention of the possibility of using a “binder,” which is a small
amount of a higher alcohol, benzene or other compound that prevents “phase
separation” of gasoline from alcohol in the presence of water. Such omissions
were typical of arguments against alcohol fuel by the oil industry in the
1930s, the 1970s and the 1990s. 

7 Confusion about this phrase is attributable
to the difference between the New York Times account, which used the quote
“gift of heaven” and the PHS transcript, which used the quote “gift
of God.” 

8 These were David L. Edsall, Dean of the Harvard Medical
School; W.H. Howell, Johns Hopkins; ; A.J. Chesley, State of Minnesota; W.S.
Leathers, Vanderbilt; Julius Stieglitz, University of Chicago; and C.E.A.
Winslow, Yale Medical School.

9 Personal communication, Jerome Niragu,
Sept. 1991. An international expert in toxicological studies of heavy metals,
Niragu reviewed the original PHS report at this writers request and roughly
estimated that blood lead levels would have exceeded 50 to 100 micrograms
per deciliter in the group of highly affected garage workers. Until 1969,
60 mg/dl was thought safe; the current safe level is considered to be 10 mg/dl.

10F.D. Patterson to J.P. Leake, May 18, 1931,
Public Health Service RG 90  Box 98,  National Archives, Washington,
D.C.




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for Corn Alcohol?” Des Moines, Iowa, 1933, library, American Petroleum
Institute, Washington, D.C.

Iowa Petroleum Public
Relations Committee,” The ABCs of Alky-Gas,” 1936, library, American
Petroleum Institute, Washington, D.C.  

V.E. Johnson, “Alcohol Motors and the Fuel of the
Future,” Chapter 19, in Modern Inventions, (London: TC &
EC Jack, Ltd., 1915) pp. 286 – 293.

Will B. Johnstone, “Patent twelve-o-eighteen-fifty,”
cartoon, clip from GMI collection, Kettering University.

Robert A. Kehoe, “Antiknock Compounds and Public
Health,” Ethyl News, May-June, 1962

Robert A.Kehoe, “The Metabolism of Lead in Man in
Health and Disease,” The Harben Lectures, 1960, JA 500-579

Charles F. Kettering,
“The Story of Ethyl Gasoline: Growth History of a New Product,”
Experimental draft, Dec. 1946, GMI Alumni Foundation Collection of Industrial
History, Kettering University, Flint, Mich.

Charles F. Kettering,
“Fuel Research Developments,” SAE Journal  Nov. 1921,
p. 295.

Charles F. Kettering,
, “Studying the Knocks,” Scientific American  Oct.
11, 1919, p. 364.

Charles F. Kettering,
“Combustion of Fuels in Internal Combustion Engines,” SAE Journal
 7:1, Sept. 1920, p. 56. 

Charles F. Kettering,
“Engineering Possibilities and Indicated by the Progress of Science,”
SAE Journal  7:3, July 1920, p. 224 – 227. 

 R.
Kobert, In Beitrage aus der Geschichte der Chemie, ed., P. Diergart, pp. 103-119;
1909.; also see  S. Gilfillan, “Roman Culture and Dysgenic Lead
Poisoning,” Mankind Quarterly, 5, 3-20, Jan-Mar, 1965. and J.
Occup. Med., 7:53-60. Both citations from  Nriagu, Lead and Lead Poisoning,
p. 323.

Bill
Kovarik, “How Fuels Were Developed for the Automobile; How We Allowed
Toxic Lead to Fluorish in the Worldwide Gasoline Supply for Sixty Years; and
Gasoline Today – The Changes that Effect Cost and Supply.” Chemcases.com,
National Science Foundation / Kennesaw State University web publication, 2001.

Bill Kovarik,  “Henry
Ford, Charles F. Kettering and the Fuel of the Future,” Society of Automotive
Historians, Conference on the Automotive Industry: Past, Present & Future,
Dearborn, Mich., Sept. 1996.  Published in 1998.  

Bill Kovarik, “Agenda
Setting in the 1924 – 1926 Ethyl Controversy,” paper to AEJMC conference
on Media and the Environment, Reno, Nevada, April 1994. 

Bill Kovarik, “Charles
F. Kettering and the Development of Tetraethyl Lead in the Context of Technological
Alternatives,” Society of Automotive Engineers, Fuels & Lubricants
Division, Historical Colloquium, Baltimore, Md. Oct. 17, 1994. 

Bill Kovarik  Fuel
Alcohol: Energy and Environment in a Hungry World,
  (London: Earthscan,
International Institute for Environment &  Development, 1981). Press
briefing paper for the U.N. Conference on Renewable Energy

John C. Lane, “Gasoline
and Other Motor Fuels,” Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, (New
York: John Wiley & Sons, 1980). 

Stuart W. Leslie, Boss Kettering (NY: Columbia
University Press, 1983).

Jack Lewis, “Lead
Poisoning: A Historical Perspective,”   EPA Journal
– May 1985

C.E. Lucke, Columbia University, and S.M. Woodward, USDA,
“The Use of Alcohol and Gasoline in Farm Engines,” USDA Farmers
Bulletin No. 277, (Washington: GPO, 1907).

Alan P. Loeb, “Birth of the Kettering Doctrine:
Fordism, Sloanism and the Discovery of Tetraethyl Lead,” Business
and Economic History
24:1, Fall 1995, 72 – 88.

Magda
Lovei,  World Bank Supportfor the Global Phaseout of Lead from Gasoline
(Washington, DC The World Bank  May 1999).

Richard
G. Lugar and R. James Woolsey, The New Petroleum, Foreign Affairs,
Jan-Feb., 1999.

C.P
McCord,  “Lead and Lead Poisoning in Early America: Benjamin Franklin
and lead poisoning,” Ind. Med. Surg. 22.

John Geddes McIntosh,
Industrial Alcohol (London: Scott, Greenwood & Son, 1907).

Thomas A. Midgley, “How We Found Ethyl Gas,”
Motor Magazine, Jan. 1925, p. 92 – 94.

Thomas A. Midgely, “Tetraethyl Lead Poison Hazards,”
Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, August 1925 p. 827

Thomas A. Midgely and T.A. Boyd, “The
Application of Chemistry to the Conservation of Motor Fuels,” Industrial
and Engineering Chemistry,
Sept. 1922, p. 850.

Thomas
A. Midgley and T.A. Boyd, “Detonation Characteristics of Some Blended
Motor Fuels,” SAE Journal, June 1922, p. 451.  Note that
one sentence concerning widespread use of alcohol fuels in foreign countries
included in  the oral presentation at a June 1922 SAE meeting was redacted
from the final  SAE published paper. The oral paper was found in the
Midgley files, GMI, Kettering University. 

Thomas A. Midgley, “Discussion
of papers at semi-annual meeting; Alcohol and Shale Oil,” SAE Journal
Oct. 1921, p. 269.

Thomas A. Midgely, “Our Liquid
Fuel Reserves,” Paper to the Society of Automotive Engineers, Oct. 13,
1921, Indiana section.

Thomas
A. Midgely, “The Combustion of Fuels in the Internal Combustion Engine,”
SAE  Journal,  7:6, Dec. 1920 p. 489 – 99.

Howard W. Mielke “Lead
in the Inner Cities : Policies to reduce children’s exposure to lead may be
overlooking a major source of lead in the environment.,”  American
Scientist
January-February, 1999 (Volume 87, No. 1)
also on the Web at: http://www.uwsp.edu/geo/courses/geog100/Lead-Mielke99.htm

Harry Miller, “Alcohol Gasoline
Engine Fuels,” University of Idaho Agricultural Experimental Station,
Dept. of Agricultural Engineering, Bulletin No. 204, June 1934 (National Agricultural
Library, Beltsville, Md.)

 G.W.
Monier-Williams, Power Alcohol:Its Production and Utilization (London:
Oxford Technical Publications, 1922.  

Michael R. Moore, “Lead in Humans,” in Richard
Lansdown and William Yule, eds., Lead Toxicity: History and Environmental
Impact
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986),

E. Elbridge Morrill, “Tetraethyl Lead Poisoning
Incident With Eight Deaths,” American Industrial Hygiene Association,
21:6, 1960, p. 515 –517.

Alejandro Muzzolon, Historia
y lucha entre el petroleo,  el carburante alcohol ye la democracia
,
(Montevideo, Uruguay:  Imprenta Letras, editorial, 1942).  Trans:
History and struggle between petroleum, alcohol fuel and democracy.

Col.
Sir Frederic Nathan, “Alcohol for Power Purposes,” The Transactions
of the World Power Congress
, London, Sept. 24 – Oct. 6, 1928. 

Mark
Neuzil and Bill Kovarik, Mass Media and Environmental Conflict: America’s
Green Crusades
  (Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage, 1996).

New York Times, “Sees
Deadly Gas A Peril in Streets; Dr. Henderson Warns Public Against Auto Exhaust
of Tetraethyl Lead; Worse than Tuberculosis,” April 22,1925, p.1.

New York Times, “Report
No Danger in Ethyl Gasoline,”Jan. 21, 1926.

New York Times, “No Substitute
for Petroleum,” Oct. 1, 1925. Clip from GMI collection, Kettering University.
Also “Gasoline Substitute Not Yet in Sight,” unattributed clip
from GMI Collection, Kettering University.

New
York Times
, “Work on New Type of Auto and Fuel,” Aug. 7, 1925.
Clip from GMI collection, Kettering University.  Also: United Press,
“New Auto, Fuel to Save Costs Are Announced,” Aug. 14, 1925 (printed
in Dallas Tx. News).

New
York Times
, “Launching of a Great Industry: The Making of Cheap
Alcohol,”  Nov. 25, 1906, Section III p. 3. 

Stanton
P. Nickerson, “Tetraethyl Lead: A Product of American Research,”
Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 31, Nov. 1954, p. 567. 

Jerome
Nriagu, Lead and Lead Poisoning in Antiquity (New York: Wiley Interscience,
1983). 

W.R. Ormandy, “The Motor Fuel Problem,” Journal
of the Institute of Petroleum Technologists,
Vol. 5, 1919, p. 33-66.

W.R.
Ormandy,  E.C. Craven, and H.R. Ricardo, Report of the Empire Motor
Fuels Committee
, 1923-24.  

Clair C. Patterson, “Contaminated
and Natural Lead Environments of Man,” Archives of Environmental Health,
Vol. 11 (September 1965), pgs. 344-360.

Perry, Percival, The
Naval Stores Industry in the Old South, 1790 – 1860, 

Journal
of Southern History,
1968 34(4): 509-526.

S.J.W. Pleeth, Alcohol: A Fuel for
Internal Combustion Engines
(London: Chapman & Hall, 1949).

Joseph A. Pratt, “Letting
the Grandchildren do it: Environmental Planning During the Ascent of Oil as
a Major Energy Source,” The Public Historian, Vol. 2 No. 4, 1980.

Bernardo
Ramazzini, “A Treatise on the Diseases of Tradesmen,” circa 1700,
cited in an unpublished paper by Lewis R. Thompson, “Knowledge of Industrial
Hygiene in the Early Days of History,”  National Institutes of Health,
RG 443 Box 195, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Boverton Redwood et al, “The Production
of Alcohol for Power,” Chemical Age, 1919, cited in Chemical
Abstracts,
13:2271

T.B. Reed, R.M. Lerner, et al., “Improved
Performance of Internal Combustion Engines using 5 – 30 % methanol in
gasoline,” Ninth Intersociety Energy Conversion Conference, American
Society of Mechanical Engineers, San Francisco, Aug. 1974.

H.R.
Ricardo, “The Influence of Various Fuels on Engine Performance,”
Automobile Engineer, Feb., 1921. 

E.K Rideal, “Notes on the Production
of Synthetic Alcohol,” Chemical Age, June 21, 1919, p. 9 –11.

Joseph
C. Robert, Ethyl: A History of the Corporation and the People Who Made
It
(Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1983). 

David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz,
“A Gift of God? The Public Health Controversy over Leaded Gasoline during
the 1920s,” American Journal of Public Health, 75:4, April 1985,
344-52.

David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, “A Gift of God?”
in Dying For Work: Workers Safety and Health in 20th Century America,
(Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1989).

R.R. Sayers, A.C. Fieldner, et al., “Experimental
Studies on the Effect of Ethyl Gasoline and its Combustion Products,”
U.S. Bureau of Mines (Washington, D.C. U.S.GPO, 1927).

A.W. Scarratt, “The Carburetion
of Alcohol,” SAE Journal, April 1921.

Scientific American, “Recent
patents on mixed fuels,” Dec. 11, 1920, p. 593. (“… a universal
assumption that alcohol in some form will be a constituent of the motor fuel
of the future”).

Scientific American, “Our
Motor Fuel Situation,” Dec. 4, 1920, p. 570.

Scientific American,”Shall
the Corn Fields Run Our Cars: The possibilities of synthetic fuels and the
source of the alcohol to make them,” Sept. 18, 1920.

Scientific American, “Motor
Spirit,” Sept. 11, 1920, p. 254.

Scientific American, “How
many miles to the gallon,” Sept. 4, 1920, p. 216.

Scientific American, “The
Gasoline Situation,” Aug. 28, 1920, p. 206.

Scientific American, “Hawaiian
Motors run on molasses,” Aug. 14, 1920, p. 147.

Scientific American, “Studying
the Knocks,” Oct. 11, 1919, p. 364, by Charles F. Kettering.

Scientific American, “Alcohol
in Industry,” Sept. 20, 1919, p. 286.

Scientific American, “How
Long the Oil Will Last, May 3, 1919, p. 459.

Scientific American, “The
Declining Supply of Motor Fuel,” March 8, 1919, p. 220.

Scientific American, “Cheap
Fuel,” Feb. 8, 1919, p. 113.

Scientific American, “Seaweed
as a Source of Alcohol,” Nov. 9, 1918, p. 371.

Scientific American, “Alcohol
as an Automobile Fuel,” July 6, 1918, (“now definitely established
that alcohol can be blended with gasoline to produce a suitable fuel …”)

Scientific American, “New
Fuels” April 13, 1918, p. 339. “Alcohol has often been suggested,
but it is not altogether satisfactory.”

Scientific American, “Heavier
Fuels,” Nov. 9, 1918, p. 371.

Scientific American, “Motors
and Alcohol in Germany,” May 24 1902, p. 364.

Scientific
American,
“Alcohol Automobiles at the Paris Alcohol Exhibition,”
Dec. 28, 1901.

 Scientific
American,
“Alcohol as a fuel for motor carriages,”  June
1, 1901, p. 344.

 Scientific
American,
  “Paris Exhibition of Alcohol Consuming Devices,”
Nov. 16, 1901

Scientific
American,
“Lead,” Aug. 29, 1857, p. 403. 

Charles
Schweitzer, “L’Etat Actuel De La Question De L’Alcool Carburant,”
Chimie & Industrie
Vol. 28, No. 1, 1932; Translated and abstracted
by  E.I. Fulmer, R.M. Hixon, L.M. Christensen, W.F. Coover in “The
Use of Alcohol in Motor Fuels: Progress Report Number I, A Survey of the Use
of Alcohol as Motor Fuel in Various Foreign Countries,” May 1, 1933,
unpublished manuscript, Iowa State University archives.

G.J.
Shave, “Fuel Mixtures on London Omnibuses,” SAE Journal,
Dec. 1920, p. 556. 

Barbara Sicherman, Alice Hamilton:
A Life in Letters
(Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1984)

Charles Simmonds, Alcohol: Its Production,
Properties and Applications
(London: Macmillan & Co., 1919).

Marlise
Simons, “Europe Bans Leaded Gas to Cut Smog,” New York Times,
July 3, 1998.

George
Otis Smith, “Where the World Gets Oil and Where Will our Children Get
It When  American Wells Cease to Flow?” National  Geographic,
Feb. 1920, p. 202.

Marjorie Smith, “Lead
in History,” in eds. Richard Lansdown and William Yule, Lead Toxicity:
History and Environmental Impact,
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.
Also see C.P McCord,  “Lead and Lead Poisoning in Early America:
Benjamin Franklin and Lead Poisoning,” Ind. Med. Surg. 22, 393-9

Reginald Smith Jr., et al, v. Lead Industries Association
et al, Case No. 24-C-99-004490, Circuit Court of the City of Baltimore.

Society of Automotive
Engineers., “Progress of Anti-Knock Fuels,”  SAE Journal,
Jan., 1924 p. 88.

Society of Automotive Engineers “Power Alcohol
from Tubers and Roots, SAEJournal, May,1925,p.546.

Society of Automotive Engineers, “Alcogas
as Aviation Fuel Compared with Export Gasoline,” SAE Journal,
June 1920, p. 397.

Society of Automotive Engineers, “The
Gasoline Situation,” SAE Journal, June 1920, p. 444.

Carl Solberg, Oil Power (NY: New American Library, 1976)

Stanwood
Sparrow et al., “Alcogas as Aviation Fuel Compared with Export Grade
Gasoline,” SAE Journal, June 1920, p.397. 

Stanwood Sparrow, “Fuels for
High Compression Engines,” Report No. 232, National Advisory Committee
for Aeronautics, US National Archives Y3.N21/5:1, 1925.

William Stephenson, A Man Called
Intrepid
(New York: Ballentine, 1976).

Robert M. Strong, “Commercial
Deductions from Comparisons of Gasoline and Alcohol Tests on Internal Combustion
Engines,” Dept. of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Bulletin 392,
(Washington: GPO, 1909).

R.M.
Strong and Lauson Stone, “Comparative Fuel Values of Gasoline and Denatured
Alcohol in Internal Combustion Engines,” Bureau of Mines Bulletin No.
43, (Washington: GPO, 1918).  

V. M. Thomas, “The
Elimination of Lead in Gasoline,”   Annual Review of Energy
and the Environment,
1995. 20:301-24 

V.M.
Thomas, Andrew Kwong, “Ethanol as a Lead Replacement: Phasing out Lead
in Africa,” Energy Policy 29 (2001) 1133-1143.

B.R. Tunnison, Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, 1921,
p. 370.

Robert N. Tweedy, Industrial Alcohol
(Dublin, Ireland: Plunkett House, 1917).

Universal News Service,
“The world will have to look to the sun for power to run its automobiles,”
quoting Charles F. Kettering,  Nov. 8, 1922, Clip from GMI collection,
Kettering University.

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, C.E. Lucke,
Columbia University, and S.M. Woodward, U.S.DA, “The Use of Alcohol
and Gasoline in Farm Engines,” U.S.D.A. Farmers Bulletin No. 277, (Washington:
GPO, 1907).

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, “On
the use of Alcohol-Gasoline Mixtures with Motor Fuels,” R.B. Gray, unpublished
report of tests at Annapolis, April 1933 (National Agricultural Library, Beltsville,
Md.).

U.S.
Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Standards, “Subject: Alcohol as a Motor
Fuel,” undated pre-printed memorandum, c. 1925. 

U.S. Dept. of Commerce,
World Trade in Gasoline, Bureau of Domestic & Foreign Commerce,
Dept. of Commerce  Trade Promotion Series No. 20, May 15, 1925. (Also
noted under Homer Fox, above).

U.S.
Dept. of Interior, Robert M. Strong, “Commercial Deductions from Comparisons
of Gasoline and Alcohol Tests on Internal Combustion Engines,”
U.S. Geological Survey, Bulletin 392, (Washington: GPO, 1909).

U.S. Dept. of Interior,
R.M. Strong and Lauson Stone, “Comparative Fuel Values of Gasoline and
Denatured Alcohol in Internal Combustion Engines,” Bureau of Mines Bulletin
No. 43, (Washington: GPO, 1918).  

U.S. v. E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Co., 126 F. Supp.
235, 1952

U.S. v. Ethyl Gasoline Corp. et al., 309 U.S. 436, 1940.

U.S. Federal Trade Commission
Docket No. 2825, Cushing Refining & Gasoline Co., June 19, 1936,
Dept. of Justice files, 60-57-107, National Archives, Washington, D.C.

U.S. Public Health Service,
“Public Health Aspects of Increasing Tetraethyl Lead Content in Motor
Fuel,” Report of the Advisory Committee on Tetraethyl Lead to the Surgeon
General,   PHS publication No. 712 (Washington, D.C. Public Health
Service, March 30, 1959).

U.S. Public Health Service,
“Proceedings of a Conference to Determine Whether or Not There is a
Public Health Question in the Manufacture, Distribution or use of Tetraethyl
Lead Gasoline,” U.S. Treasury Dept.,  PHS Bulletin No. 158,
August 1925.

U.S. Public Health Service,
“The Use of Tetraethyl Lead Gasoline in its Relation to Public Health,”
Public Health Bulletin No. 163,  Treasury Dept. (Washington: GPO, 1926).

U.S. House of Representatives,
Free Alcohol Hearings, House Ways & Means Committee, 59th Congress, Feb.-Mar.
1906.

U.S. Navy,  Stanwood
W. Sparrow, “Fuels for High Compression Engines,” Report No. 232,
U.S. Naval Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. 

U.S. Senate Committee on Public Works, “Air Pollution
– 1966,” Hearings before a Subcommittee on Air and Water Pollution of
the Committee on Public Works, June 7, 8, 9, 14, and 15, 1966 (Washington,
D.C.: GPO, 1966).

U.S. Senate, Hearings
of the Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program,
S. Res. 71,  Mar. 5 – April 7, 1942.

U.S. Senate, “Utilization
of Farm Crops,” Hearings of a Subcommittee of the Committee on Agriculture
and Forestry, United States Senate, S. Res. 224,  (1942 – 1950).

U.S. Senate,  Hearings
on SB 522, Senate Finance Committee, May 1939.

U.S. Senate Finance Committee,
Hearings on HR 24816, “Free Alcohol Law,”  Feb. 1907, Doc.
No. 362. 

U.S. Tariff Commission, Industrial Alcohol, War
Changes in Industry Series, Report No. 2, (Washington, GPO: Jan. 1944).

Christopher C. Vogel, “TEL: Refinery Tool,”
Ethyl News, May-June, 1954.

Welsbach Gas Co., History
of Light,
 Philadelphia Penn, 1909, Smithsonian Institution History
of Advertising collection.

Christian
Warren, Brush With Death: A Social History of Lead Poisoning (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), p. 220 – 221.

M.C. Whitaker, “Alcohol for Power,” Chemists
Club, New York, Sept. 30, 1925. Cited in Hixon, “use of Alcohol in Motor
Fuels: Progress Report No. 6,” Iowa State College, May 1, 1933.

David
White, “The Unmined Supply of  Petroleum in the United States,”
Paper presented to the Society of Automotive Engineers annual meeting, Feb.
4-6, 1919

Reynold Millard Wik, “Henry Ford’s
Science and Technology for Rural America,” Technology and Culture,
Summer 1963.

Williamson,
Harold F., and  Arnold R. Daum, The American Petroleum Industry, 1859-1899,
The Age of Illumination
(Evanston Ill NW U Press, 1959). 

Rosamond
McPherson Young, Boss Ket: A Life of Charles F. Ketering, (NY: Longmans,
Green & Co., 1961). 

Angela Nugent Young, Interpreting the Dangerous Trades: Workers
Health in America and the Career of Alice Hamilton, 1910 – 1935, M.A.
Thesis Brown University, June 1982. Young cites several memos

Gerard
Colby Zilg, DuPont: Behind the Nylon Curtain (NY: Prentice Hall, 1974).

Welsbach Gas Co., The History of Light, 1909, pamphlet on file in
the Smithsonian collection of Advertising, Museum of American History, Washington,
D.C.

M.C. Whitaker, “Alcohol for Power,” Chemists Club, New
York, Sept. 30, 1925. Cited in Hixon, “Use of Alcohol in Motor Fuels:
Progress Report No. 6,” Iowa State College, May 1, 1933.

David
E. Wright, Agricultural editors Wheeler McMillen and Clifford V. Gregory and
the farm chemurgic movement. 22 March 1995 Agricultural History 272 Vol. 69,
No. 2