The Forgotten History: the forgotten hero and the forgotten evil

Who is the most evil person in this world? Hitler? No, not Hitler. King Nero? Not Nero, NO. Who is then?

This chubby calm person, Thomas Midgley Jr.

Thomas Midgley

What is the most success biggest conspiracy in the World? 9/11, Keneddy Assassination, Roswell Incident, NASA Fake Moon Landing???? NO, Not all all. The biggest conspiracy in this World has a deep, permanent and accumulative impact towards our life and our world. It was American Lead Conspiracy and of course the most evil person, the calm one, Thomas Midgley must take a part in this conspiracy.

TEL advertising

Graduated from Cornell University, Midgley is a bright Engineer and Chemist. In 1921, Midgley working for General Motors Research Corp. in Dayton, Ohio, USA. He investigated a compound called tetraethy lead that also known (confusingly) as lead tetraethyl 🙂 and discovered that lead significantly reduced juddering condition know as self-knocking or engine knock.

Actually, in that year; Lead was widely known as dangerous, and even in the early of 20th century. Lead is a neurotoxin, it can irreparably damage the brain and central nervous system. It also create many symptoms associated with blindness, insomnia, kidney failure, hearing loss, cancer, palsies, and convulsions.

Whatever the cost is, three America’s largest corporations (General Motors, Du Pont, and Standard Oil) formed a joint enterprise called the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation (known as Ethyl Corp.) to harvest embarrasingly profitable product. They call their additive as “ethyl” to hide the “lead” word. Make it sounds friendly and less toxic 🙂 to introduced it for public consumption on February 1, 1923.

In the late 1940’s, a graduate student at the University of Chicago named Clair Patterson was using a new method of lead isotope measurement, try to get a definitive age for the Earth at last.  He found all his samples came up contaminated by lead. Most of the sample contained like two hundred times levels of lead that would normally be expected to occur.

Clair Patterson

In the beginning of 1965, with the publication of Contaminated and Natural Lead Environments of Man, Patterson tried to draw public attention to the problem of increased lead level in environment and food chain from industrial sources. He fought against the conspiracy power of Ethyl Corp. in government and  research society and also encountered against the legacy of Midgley and Robert A. Kehoem, Ethyl former engineer. Patterson also faced the powerful directors of Ethyl, Lewis Powell (Supreme court justice) and Gilbert Grosvenor (National Geographic Society).

Their  Company Motto: Changing… For A Changing World (they really changing 😛 )

Actually before Patterson fought, Ethyl has realized their dirty work.  Almost at once production workers began toexhibit the staggered gait and confused faculties that mark the recently poisoned. Also almost at once, the Ethyl Corporation embarked on a policy of calm but unyielding denial that would serve it well for decades. As Sharon Bertsch McGrayne notes in her absorbing history of industrial chemistry, Prometheans in the Lab, when employees at one plant de veloped irreversible delusions, a spokesman blandly informed reporters: “These men probably went insane because they worked too hard.”

Altogether at least fifteen workers died in the early days of production of  leaded gasoline, and untold numbers of others became ill, often violently so; the exact numbers are unknown because the company nearly always managed to hush up news of embarrassing leakages, spills, and poisonings. At times, however, suppressing the news became impossible, most notably in 1924 when in a matter of days five production workers  died and thirty-five more were turned into permanent staggering wrecks at a single ill-ventilated facility.  As rumors circulated about the dangers of the new product, ethyl’s ebullient inventor, Thomas Midgley, decided to hold a demonstration for reporters to allay their concerns. As he  chatted away about the company’s commitment to safety, he poured tetra ethyl lead over his hands, then held a beaker of it to his nose for sixty seconds, claiming all the while that he could repeat the procedure dail y without harm. In fact, Midgley knew only too well the perils of lead poisoning: he had himself been made seriously ill from overexposure a few months earlier and now, except when reassuring journalists, never went near the stuff if he could help it.

To cover up the news, on October 30, 1924, Midgley participated in a press conference to demonstrate the apparent safety of Tetra Ethyl Lead (TEL). In this demonstration, he poured TEL over his hands, then placed a bottle of the chemical under his nose and inhaled its vapor for 60 seconds, declaring that he could do this every day without succumbing to any problems whatsoever. However, the State of New Jersey ordered the Bayway plant to be closed a few days later, and Jersey Standard was forbidden to manufacture TEL there again without state permission. Midgley himself was careful to avoid mentioning to the press that he required nearly a year to recover from the lead poisoning brought on by his demonstration at the press conference.  Midgley himself sought treatment for lead poisoning in Europe a few months after his demonstration at the press conference.

It was an unfair war actually, Patterson finally excluded from National Research Council, which is very odd because he was the foremost expert on the subject at any time. Before that, he was refused with many research organization, including The American Petroleum Institute and that supposedly neutral US Public Health Service. Ethyl executives allegedly offered to endow a chair at Caltech “if Patterson was sent packing.”

Patterson’s efforts ultimately led to the Environmental Protection Agency announcing in 1973 a reduction of 60-65% in phased steps, and ultimately the removal of lead from all standard, consumer, automotive gasoline in the United States by 1986. But it was, 21 years after Patterson talent wasted, 21 year being excluded and 21 year without grant.

To his great credit, Patterson never wavered or buckled. Eventually his efforts led to the introduction of the Clean Air Ac t of 1970 and finally to the removal from sale of all leaded gasoline in the United States in 1986. Almost immediately lead levels in the blood of Americans fell by 80 percent. But because lead is forever, those of us alive today have about 625 times more lead in our blood than people did a century ago. The amount of lead in the atmosphere also continues to grow, quite legally, by about a hundred thousand metric tons a year, mostly from mining, smelting, and industrial activities. The United States also banned lead in indoor paint, “forty-four years after most of Europe.” Remarkably, considering its startling toxicity, lead solder was not removed from American food containers until 1993.

As late as February 2001 Ethyl continued to contend “that  research has failed to show that leaded gasoline poses a threat to human health or the environment.” On its website, a history of th e company makes no mention of lead—or indeed of Thomas Midgley—but simply refers to the original product as containing “a certain combination of chemicals.”

After TEL scandals, Midgley turned to another technological problem of the age. Refrigerators in the 1920s were often appallingly risky because they used dangerous gases that sometimes leaked. One leak from a refrigerator at a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1929 killed more than a hundred people. Midgley set out to create a gas that was stable, nonflammable, noncorrosive, and safe to breathe. With an instinct for the regrettable that was almost uncanny, he invented chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs.

Chlorofluorocarbons are also not very abundant—they constitute only about one part per billion of the atmosphere as a whole—but they are extravagantly destructive. One pound of CFCs can capture and annihilate seventy thousand pounds of atmospheric ozone. CFCs also hang around for a long time—about a century on average—wreaking havoc all the while. They are also great heat sponges. A single CFC molecule is about ten thousand times more efficient at exacerbating greenhouse effects th an a molecule of carbon dioxide—and carbon dioxide is of course no slouch itself as a greenhouse gas. In short, chlorofluorocarbons may ultimately prove to be just about the worst invention of the twentieth century.

Midgley died three decades before the ozone depleting effects of CFCs in the atmosphere became widely known. His death was it self memorably unusual. After becoming crippled with polio, Midgley invented a contraption involving a series of motorized pulleys that automatically raised or turned him in bed. In 1944, he became entangled in the cords as the machine went into action and was strangled. Apparently, his research result never be right, or maybe this last one is right 😀

For his great contribution to our environment; Mc Neill, former enviromental historian even remarked Midgley as  a single organism that has had the greatest impact on the earth’s atmosphere.

What about Patterson our forgotten hero?

Clair Patterson died in 1995. He didn’t win a Nobel Prize for his work. Geologists never do. Nor, more puzzlingly, did he gain any fame or even much attention from half a century of consistent and increasingly self less achievement. A good case could be made that he was the most influential geologist of the twentieth century. Yet who has ever heard of Clair Patterson? Most geology textbooks don’t mention him. Two recent popular books on the history of the dating of Earth actually manage to misspell his name. In early 2001, a reviewer of one of these books in the journal Nature made the additional, rather astounding error of thinking Patterson was a woman. At all events, thanks to the work of Clair Patterson by 1953 the Earth at last had an age everyone could agree on. The only problem now was it was older than the universe that contained it.

“Finally, the story of Midgley end. Three America’s largest corporations (General Motors, Du Pont, and Standard Oil) was still exist, the Ethyl Corporation changed name into New Market Corporation (the parent company of Afton Chemical Corporation, manufacturer of lubricant and fuel additives, and Ethyl Corporation, a manufacturer and distributor of certain fuel additives) and it was also still exist. None of them never be prosecuted or sued. If United States sued British Petroleum and 8 other companies for contaminated Mexico Gulf with oil spill. The word should sue them for contaminated our atmosphere or at least sue any responsibility from  US, the LEADer of the world, for the embarrassing conspiracy among industry-research organization-and government”


1. Bill Bryon, Getting Out of Lead

2. Deborah Blum, Poisoners Handbook

Patterson Paper about Lead:

Contaminated and natural environments of man, Archive Environmental Health

26 thoughts on “The Forgotten History: the forgotten hero and the forgotten evil

  1. It’s amazing how much effort people will happily put into delusion, diversion, distraction and disinformation rather than into fixing or eliminating what they’re busily covering up. They’d much rather make a profit than do what’s right if they have to choose.

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  5. Thank you for writing this informative article and salute to my hero Dr. Clair Cameron Patterson.

    Why there was no prosecution of Thomas Midgley Jr. and the Ethyl Corporation executives knowing they premeditated to poison American general public for their own profit gains? They should pay for their crimes against me, my children and every one who used gasoline powered automobiles before 1986.

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