Camphene to Kerosene Lamps

Popular but dangerous mixture replaced by brighter, less volatile lamp fuel.

 

In the early 19th century, lamp designs burned many different fuels, including rapeseed oil, lard, and whale oil rendered from whale blubber (and the more expensive spermaceti from the head of sperm whales), but most Americans could only afford light emitted by animal-fat, tallow candles.

By 1850, the U.S. Patent Office recorded almost 250 different patents for all manner of lamps, wicks, burners, and fuels to meet growing consumer demand for illumination. At the time, most Americans still lived in almost complete darkness when the sun went down.

In the years leading to the Civil War, the most popular lamp fuel by far was the “burning fluid” called camphene, a dangerous mixture of turpentine, alcohol, and camphor oil extracted from the wood of camphor trees. It was inexpensive but volatile; camphene lamps could explode.

Camphene lamp two-wicked lamp,

Before kerosene, two-wicked “burning fluid” lamps were popular but dangerous sources of light.

In 1835, Henry Porter of Bangor, Maine, patented his camphene mixture and opened a business to sell it in downtown Boston, Massachusetts. The concoction combined one part turpentine with four parts alcohol, and a small amount of camphor for aroma.

“Porter’s Burning Fluid” became a popular lamp fuel. It burned bright and smelled good, but was dangerous, according to the Boston Mattapan Register, which reported that house fires and injuries were common. The newspaper noted on September 10, 1859:

There are different kinds of lamps and of lamp oil, adapted to different tastes and circumstances; and there is one at least, most abominable invention under the name of Camphene Oil, or Burning Fluid, which were better denominated a Swift and Ready Means of Destruction for Private Families; for this designation would convey a true idea of its nature and effects.

Despite the risks, consumer demand for camphene grew. By 1856, Rufus H. Spalding had taken over Henry Porter’s Boston business as the “Sole Manufacturer of Porter’s Patent Composition.”

Circa 1855 advertisements for camphene manufacturer Rufus H. Spalding.

Circa 1855 advertisements for camphene manufacturer Rufus H. Spalding also promoted “Portable and Steady Lamps of every description.”

Spalding offered many ornamental lighting devices, including girandoles and candelabra, along with lanterns and lamps for all kinds of fuels. Spalding’s downtown Tremont Row offices and “manufactory” on Adams Street supplied camphene to Boston’s expanding population.

The cost of whale oil ranged from $1.30 a gallon to $2.50 a gallon (about $35.70 a gallon to $68.70 a gallon in 2017 dollars). Lard oil was about 90 cents a gallon. More popular was the manufactured “coal oil,” a fuel refined from coal that cost about 50 cents a gallon, but it was sooty and yielded a low quality light.

Rock oil had been patented in 1854 by a Canadian physician and geologist, Abraham Gesner, who named his lamp fuel kerosene. Most people called it coal oil. A factory in Long Island, New York, soon began producing and selling Gesner’s new product.

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In larger cities, public street gaslights had already been burning a “manufactured gas” made by distilling tar and wood. Baltimore, Maryland, had lit the first U.S. public gas street lamp in 1817 during a ceremony a block from city hall. In 1836, the newly formed Philadelphia Gas Works operated a “gasification” plant that manufactured illuminating gaslight from refined coal that was piped to 46 street lamps.

But for cheap, bright household lighting, many Americans still bought a two-wick lamp fueled with camphene. The unusual lamps had burners with long wick tubes set at angles to burn separately, a design many believed helped lower the risk of an explosion. Metal caps were placed over the tubes to extinguish the flames (considered safer than blowing them out).

19th century Camphene and Kerosene lamp advertisement for R. H. Spalding.Alcohol used in camphene was an important mainstay for distilleries, with many selling 30 percent to 80 percent of their output to the lamp fuel market. Taverns aside, by 1860 distilleries were delivering at least 90 million gallons of alcohol per year to the lighting industry.

Camphene’s production and distribution systems were well established and, with whale oil becoming increasingly expensive, the future of camphene looked bright, despite explosions. Then on August 27, 1859, Edwin L. Drake drilled America’s first commercial oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Investors in “Drake’s Folly,” including George Bissell of the Seneca Oil Company of New Haven, Connecticut, had learned from a Yale professor that oil could be refined into kerosene.

Simple distillation of crude oil yielded kerosene that sold for about 50 cents a gallon, about the same price as camphene. Pennsylvania refineries sprang up to produce kerosene made from oil, many using basic “tea kettle” stills with 40 gallons to 4,000 gallons per day capacity. As inexpensive oil-based kerosene began overwhelming makers of camphene (and coal oil) at the start of the Civil, a tax on alcohol extinguished the camphene lighting business.

To help fund the Union Army, the Internal Revenue Act imposed a $2.08 per gallon tax on alcohol between 1862 and 1864. Intended as an excise tax on beverage alcohol only, the law did not specifically exempt industrial uses, including camphene, which was about 75 percent high-proof alcohol. Camphene, once favored, was soon forgotten in American households (Congress repealed the alcohol tax in 1906).

Carbon Oil

Today the home of an oil museum and park, the Drake well yielded hundreds of gallons of high-quality crude oil. Each gallon could be distilled into about three quarts of lamp fuel. The new product became interchangeably known as rock oil, coal oil, carbon oil, or kerosene (the 19th century product is still used as rocket fuel).

ad seeking agents to sell Aladdin brand of kerosene lamps, circa 1900.

An ad seeking agents to sell Aladdin brand of kerosene lamps, circa 1900.

Following Drake’s 1859 historic discovery, Samuel Kier of Pittsburgh was his first customer – and the first person in the United States to refine oil for a lamp fuel. He sold his higher quality “Carbon Oil” at $1.50 per gallon.

After a drilling slowdown during the Civil War, the first oil boom towns appeared in northwestern Pennsylvania. Barges began moving 42-gallon oil barrels down Oil Creek to the Allegheny River and on to newly build refineries in Pittsburgh. Thousands of  wooden derricks appeared, many with two-wicked oilfield lanterns called yellow dogs fueled with crude oil.

Within a few years, kerosene lamps illuminated almost every American home. Many new exploration, production, and transportation industries prospered thanks to kerosene. Then, beginning in the 1880s, kerosene suddenly became obsolete as a new technology entered the marketplace.

Thomas Edison’s electric lights steadily began to replace kerosene lamps. Almost as quickly as kerosene had extinguished camphene 20 years before, electric lighting dimmed kerosene’s future as consumers switched on electric lights. The loss of its principal product could have doomed America’s young petroleum industry.

Then, another radical invention became incredibly popular with consumers, not for lighting, but for transportation. “Horseless carriages” with internal combustion engines fuel by a petroleum product provided a new opportunity for the oil business (see Cantankerous Combustion – 1st U.S. Auto Show). With diminishing demand for kerosene, demand for gasoline transformed America’s oil exploration, production, and transportation companies.

The need for a formerly discarded by-product of kerosene distillation came at an especially good time for Texas wildcatters. In 1901, the giant Spindletop Hill oilfield was discovered near Beaumont. The modern petroleum age had arrived.

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Recommended Reading:  Oil Lamps The Kerosene Era In North America (1978); Myth, Legend, Reality: Edwin Laurentine Drake and the Early Oil Industry (2009). Your Amazon purchase benefits the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. As an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2021 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Camphene to Kerosene Lamps.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/products/camphene-to-kerosene-lamps. Last Updated: January 6, 2020. Original Published Date: April 29, 2017.

 

Wham-O and Petroleum Product Hoopla

Oil Company chemists invent new plastic, but transition from lab to market proves difficult. Enter Wham-O.

 

In 1954, the Oklahoma-based oil and natural gas company’s scientists developed high-density polyethylene. Marketing executives named their latest petroleum product Marlex, but searched in vain for buyers of the plastic. Then the Wham-O toy company found the plastic ideal for making hoops and flying platters.

Prompted by a post World War II boom in demand for plastics, Phillips Petroleum invested $50 million to bring its own miracle product – Marlex – to market in 1954. It would stand out from among thousands of the company’s patents.

(more…)

Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer

The world’s first synthetic fiber was the petroleum product “Nylon 6,” discovered in 1935 by a DuPont chemist who produced the polymer from chemicals found in oil.

DuPont Corporation foresaw the future of “strong as steel” artificial fibers. The chemical conglomerate had been founded in 1802 as a Wilmington, Delaware, manufacturer of gunpowder. The company would become a global giant after DuPont scientists created incredibly durable and versatile products, including nylon, rayon, and lucite.

petroleum product nylon

“Women show off their nylon pantyhose to a newspaper photographer, circa 1942,” noted historian Jennifer S. Li in “The Story of Nylon – From a Depressed Scientist to Essential Swimwear.” Photo by R. Dale Rooks (1917-1954).

The world’s first synthetic fiber — nylon — was discovered on February 28, 1935, by a former Harvard professor working at a DuPont research laboratory. Called Nylon 6 by scientists, the revolutionary carbon-based product came from chemicals found in petroleum.

Man-made fiber Nylon 6 illustration of its six carbon atoms per molecule.

Chemists called the man-made fiber Nylon 6 because chains of adipic acid and hexamethylene diamine each contained six carbon atoms per molecule.

Professor Wallace Carothers had experimented with artificial materials for more than six years. He previously discovered neoprene rubber (commonly used in wet suits) and made major contributions to understanding polymers — large molecules composed in long chains of repeating chemical structures.

Just 32 years old, Carothers created fibers when he combines the chemicals amine, hexamethylene diamine, and adipic acid. He formed a polymer chain using a process in which individual molecules join together with water as a byproduct.

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However, the fibers were weak, explains a PBS series, A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries. “Carothers’ breakthrough came when he realized the water produced by the reaction was dropping back into the mixture and getting in the way of more polymers forming,” notes the PBS website. “He adjusted his equipment so that the water was distilled and removed from the system. It worked!”

DuPont named the petroleum product nylon — although chemists called it Nylon 6 because the adipic acid and hexamethylene diamine each contain six carbon atoms per molecule.

1938 ad for petroleum product nylon bristles on toothbrushes.

“Until now, all good toothbrushes were made with animal bristles,” noted a 1938 ad.

Each man-made molecule consists of 100 or more repeating units of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms, strung in a chain. A single filament of nylon may have a million or more molecules, each taking some of the strain when the filament is stretched.

There’s disagreement about how the product name originated at DuPont.

“As to the word nylon, it’s actually quite arbitrary. DuPont itself has stated that originally the name was intended to be No-Run (that’s run as in the sense of the compound chain of the substance unravelling), but at the time there was no real justification for the claim, so it needed to be changed,” noted Chris Nickson in a 2017 website post, Where Does the Name Nylon Originate?

Replacing Hog Bristles

The first commercial use of this revolutionary petroleum product was for toothbrushes.

On February 24, 1938, the Weco Products Company of Chicago, Illinois, began selling its new “Dr. West’s Miracle-Tuft” — the earliest toothbrush to use synthetic DuPont nylon bristles.

Petroleum product nylon used for women's stockings in a DuPont 1948 ad.

First used for toothbrush bristles, nylon women’s stockings were promoted in a DuPont 1948 ad.

Americans will soon brush their teeth with nylon — instead of hog bristles, declared an article in the New York Times. “Until now, all good toothbrushes were made with animal bristles,” proclaimed a 1938 Weco Products advertisement in Life magazine. “Today, Dr. West’s new Miracle-Tuft is a single exception. It is made with EXTON, a unique bristle-like filament developed by the great DuPont laboratories, and produced exclusively for Dr. West’s.”

Pricing its toothbrush at 50 cents, the Weco Products Company guaranteed “no bristle shedding.” Johnson & Johnson of New Brunswick, New Jersey, will introduce a competing nylon-bristle toothbrush in 1939.

Nylon Stockings

Although DuPont patented nylon in 1935, it was not officially announced to the public until October 27, 1938, in New York City. A DuPont vice president unveiled the synthetic fiber — not to a scientific society or industry association — but to 3,000 Women’s Club members gathered at the site of the upcoming 1939 New York World’s Fair.

During WWII, Nylon was used as a substitute for silk in parachutes.

During WWII, nylon was used as a substitute for silk in parachutes.

“He spoke in a session entitled ‘We Enter the World of Tomorrow,’ which was keyed to the theme of the forthcoming fair, the World of Tomorrow,” explained DuPont historian David A. Hounshell in a 1988 book.

The petroleum product was an instant hit, especially as a replacement for silk in hosiery. DuPont built a full-scale nylon plant in Seaford, Delaware, and began commercial production in late 1939. The company purposefully did not register “nylon” as a trademark – choosing to allow the word to enter the American vocabulary as a synonym for “stockings.”

Women’s nylon stockings appeared for the first time at Gimbels Department Store on May 15, 1940. World War II would remove the polymer hosiery to make nylon parachutes and other vital supplies.

Nylon would become far and away the biggest money-maker in the history of DuPont. The powerful material from lab research led company executives to derive formulas for growth, according to Hounshell in his 1988 book, The Nylon Drama. “By putting more money into fundamental research, Du Pont would discover and develop ‘new nylons,’ that is, new proprietary products sold to industrial customers and having the growth potential of nylon,” he explained.

Carothers did not live to see the widespread application of his work — in consumer goods such as toothbrushes, fishing lines, luggage and lingerie, or in special uses such as surgical thread, parachutes, or pipes — nor the powerful effect it had in launching a whole era of synthetics. “Early in 1937 his favorite sister died suddenly. He never recovered from the loss…and in April of that year he committed suicide. DuPont later named its research station after him.”

The DuPont website notes the Carothers invention changed the way people dressed worldwide –  and rendered the term ‘silk stocking’ obsolete. It had once been an epithet directed at the wealthy elite . Nylon’s success also encouraged DuPont to adopt long-term strategies for new products developed from basic research.

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Recommended Reading: The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History (2019); Enough for One Lifetime: Wallace Carothers, Inventor of Nylon. (2005). Your Amazon purchases benefit the American Oil & Gas Historical Society; as an Amazon Associate, AOGHS earns a commission from qualifying purchases.

_______________________

The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2021 Bruce A. Wells.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Nylon, a Petroleum Polymer.” Authors: B.A. Wells and K.L. Wells. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/products/petroleum-product-nylon-fiber. Last Updated: February 21, 2021. Original Published Date: February 23, 2014.

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Seeking Star Oil Company

Researching a Chicago oil products company sign.

 

A Chicago college student in January 2021 emailed the American Oil & Gas Historical Society seeking research advice about a recently found porcelain sign from the Star Oil Company. “I’ve tried to do some research on it but I haven’t even found a place to start,” he noted. (more…)

Oleaginous History of Wax Lips

Petroleum paraffin finds its way from refinery to candles, crayons, chewing gum…and an unusual candy.

 

When Ralphie Parker and his 4th-grade classmates dejectedly hand over their Wax Fangs to Mrs. Shields in “A Christmas Story,” a generation might be reminded of what a penny used to buy at the local Woolworth’s store. But there is far more to these paraffin playthings than a penny’s worth of fun. 

It’s hard to recall a time when there were no Wax Lips, Wax Moustaches, or Wax Fangs for kids to smuggle into classrooms. Many grownups may remember the peculiar disintegrating flavor of Wax Lips from bygone Halloweens and birthday parties, but few know where these enduring icons of American culture actually started. The answer, oddly enough, can be found by way of the oil patch.

Beginning with the 1859 birth of the U.S. oil industry, America’s growing oilfields brought an important new source of light and other petroleum products.

Wax lips petroleum product featured in 1984's A Christmas story

The 1984 holiday classic “A Christmas Story” featured Ralphie, his 4th-grade classmates – and a popular petroleum product for kids. Photos courtesy MGM Home Entertainment.

“This flood of American petroleum poured in upon us by millions of gallons, and giving light at a fifth of the cost of the cheapest candle,” wrote British chandler James Wilson in 1879. As kerosene lanterns replaced candles for illumination, the much-reduced candle business turned from tallow to versatile paraffin.

A byproduct of kerosene distillation, paraffin found its way from refinery to marketplace in candles, sealing waxes — and even chewing gums. Ninety percent of all candles by 1900 used paraffin as the new century brought a host of novel uses. Thomas Edison’s popular new phonographs also needed paraffin for their wax cylinders.

Crayons were introduced by the Binney & Smith Company in 1903 and were instantly successful. Alice Binney came up with the name by combining the French word for chalk, craie, with an English adjective meaning oily, oleaginous: Crayola (see Carbon Black and Oilfield Crayons).

Wack-O-Wax lips petroleum product red candy lips.

Concord Confections, part of Tootsie-Roll Industries, continues to produce Wax Lips and other paraffin candies for new generations of schoolchildren.

In New York City, after collecting unrefined waxy samples from Pennsylvania oil wells, Robert Chesebrough invented a method for turning paraffin into a balm he called “petroleum jelly,” later “Vaseline.” His product also led to a modern cosmetic giant (learn more in A Crude History of Mabel’s Eyelashes).

Petroleum Paraffin Lips, Fangs, and Horses Teeth

An inspired Buffalo, New York, confectioner soon used fully refined, food-grade paraffin and a sense of humor to find a niche in America’s imagination.

When John W. Glenn introduced children to paraffin “penny chewing gum novelties,” his business boomed. By 1923, his J.W. Glenn Company employed 100 people, including 18 traveling sales representatives. Glenn Confections became the wax candy division of Franklin Gurley’s nearby W.&F. Manufacturing Company. There, the ancestors of Wax Lips chattered profitably down the production line. Among the most popular of these novelties at the time were Wax Horse Teeth (said to taste like wintergreen).

By 1939, Gurley was producing a popular series of holiday candles for the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company using paraffin from a nearby refinery at Olean, New York – once home to the world’s largest crude oil storage site. A field of metal tanks, some holding 20,000 gallons of paraffin, stood next to Gurley’s W.&F. Manufacturing Company in Buffalo.

wax fangs chewing gum candy.

Glenn Confections, the candy division of W. & F. Manufacturing Company, produced Fun Gum Sugar Lips, Wax Fangs, and Nik-L-Nips.

Decorative and scented paraffin candles soon became the company’s principal products, accounting for 98 percent of W.&F. Manufacturing sales. Gurley’s “Tavern Candle” Santas, reindeer, elves and other colorful Christmas favorites today are prized by collectors on eBay, as are his elaborately molded Halloween candles. As W.&F.’s wax candy division, Glenn Confections, has continued to manufacture Fun Gum Sugar Lips, Wax Fangs, and Nik-L-Nips.

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In Emlenton, Pennsylvania, a few miles south of Oil City, the Emlenton Refining Company (and later the Quaker State Oil Refining Company) provided the fully refined, food-grade paraffin for these bizarre but beloved treats.

Retired Quaker State employee Barney Lewis remembers selling Emlenton paraffin to W.&F. Manufacturing. During a 2005 interview he noted, “It was always fun going to the plant…they were very secret about how they did stuff, but you always got a sample to bring home,” adding, “Wax Lips, Nik-L-Nips…the little Coke bottle-shaped wax, filled with colored syrup.”

Today, Concord Confections, a small part of Tootsie-Roll Industries, continues to produce Wax Lips and other paraffin candies for new generations of schoolchildren. The modern petroleum industry produces an astonishing range of products for consumers. But among the many products that find their history in the oilfield, few are as unique, peculiar, and revered as Wax Lips.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. Copyright © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All rights reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Oleaginous History of Wax Lips.” Author: AOGHS.ORG Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/products/an-oleaginous-history-of-wax-lips. Last Updated: December 21, 2020. Original Published Date: December 1, 2006.

 

Ethyl Anti-Knock Gas

General Motors scientists discovered amazing anti-knock properties of tetraethyl lead gasoline in 1921.

 

By 1923, many American motorists would be driving into service stations nationwide and say, “Fill ‘er up with Ethyl.” 

Early internal combustion engines often suffered from a severe “knocking,” the out-of-sequence detonation of the gasoline-air mixture in a cylinder. The constant shock added to exhaust valve wear and frequently damaged engines. In November 1900, gasoline-powered autos were the least popular (see Cantankerous Combustion – First U.S. Auto Show).

General Motors chemists Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles F. Kettering.

General Motors chemists Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles F. Kettering.

On December 9, 1921, after five years of lab work to find an additive to eliminate pre-ignition “knock” problems of gasoline, General Motors researchers Thomas Midgely Jr. and Charles Kettering discovered the anti-knock properties of tetraethyl lead. Their early experiments had examined the properties of knock suppressors such as bromine, iodine and tin – and compare these to new additives such as arsenic, sulfur, silicon and lead.

Gas pump with "Ethyl" logo for tetraethyl lead gasoline

Halth concerns resulted in the phase-out of tetraethyl lead beginning in 1976.

The two GM chemists synthesized tetraethyl lead and tried it in their one-cylinder laboratory engine, the knocking abruptly disappeared and fuel economy improved. “Ethyl” vastly improved gasoline performance.

Although being diluted to a ratio of one part per thousand, the lead additive yielded gasoline without the loud, power-robbing knock. With other scientists watching, the first car tank filled with leaded gas took place on February 2, 1923, at the Refiners Oil Company service station in Dayton, Ohio.

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In the beginning, GM provided Refiners Oil Company and other service stations special equipment, simple bolt on adapters called “Ethylizers” to meter the proper proportion of the new additive.

“By the middle of this summer you will be able to purchase at approximately 30,000 filling stations in various parts of the country, a fluid that will double the efficiency of your automobile, eliminate the troublesome motor knock, and give you 100 percent greater mileage,” Popular Science Monthly reported in 1924.

Ohio service station sells Ethyl gas for the first time.

“Ethyl” gasoline goes for the first time at this Dayton, Ohio, gas station. In foreground pump, GM’s bolt-on “Ethylizer” is visible, running vertically alongside the visible reservoir. Photo courtesy Kettering/GMI Alumni Foundation.

Anti-knock gasoline containing a tetraethyl lead compound also proved vital for aviation engines during World War II, even as danger from the lead content increasingly became apparent.

Powering Allied Victory in World War II 

Aviation fuel technology was still in its infancy in the 1930s. The properties of tetraethyl lead proved vital to the Allies during World War II. Advances in aviation fuel increased power and efficiency, resulting in the production of 100-octane aviation gasoline shortly before the war.

Phillips Petroleum – later ConocoPhillips – was involved early in aviation fuel research and had already provided high gravity gasoline for some of the first mail-carrying airplanes after World War I.

Phillips Petroleum WWII ad for tetraethyl lead aviation gasoline.

Phillips Petroleum produced tetraethyl leaded aviation fuels from high-quality oil found in Osage County, Oklahoma, oilfields.

Phillips Petroleum produced aviation fuels before it produced automotive fuels. The company’s gasoline came from the high-quality oil produced during the Osage County oil boom, which began in 1917.

Although today still an ingredient of 100 octane “avgas” for piston-engine aircraft, tetraethyl’s danger to public health was underestimated for decades.

Tetraethyl lead’s Deadly Side

Leaded gasoline was extremely dangerous from the beginning, according Deborah Blum, a Pulitzer-Prize winning science writer. “G.M. and Standard Oil had formed a joint company to manufacture leaded gasoline, the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation,” she noted in a January 2013 article. Research focused solely on improving the formula, not on the danger of the lead additive.

1932 magazine ad Eythl gas additive.

A 1932 magazine ad promoted wildly improved high-compression engine performance.

“The companies disliked and frankly avoided the lead issue,” Blum wrote in “Looney Gas and Lead Poisoning: A Short, Sad History” at Wire.com. “They’d deliberately left the word out of their new company name to avoid its negative image.”

In 1924, dozens were sickened and five employees of the Standard Oil Refinery in Bayway, New Jersey, died after they handled the new gasoline additive. By May 1925, the U.S. Surgeon General called a national tetraethyl lead conference, Blum reported, and an investigative task force was formed. Researchers concluded there was ”no reason to prohibit the sale of leaded gasoline” as long as workers were well protected during the manufacturing process.

So great was the additive’s potential to improve engine performance, the author notes, by 1926 the federal government approved continued production and sale of leaded gasoline. “It was some fifty years later – in 1986 – that the United States formally banned lead as a gasoline additive,” Blum added.

By the early 1950s, American geochemist Clair Patterson discovered the toxicity of tetraethyl lead; phase-out of its use in gasoline began in 1976 and was completed by 1986. In 1996, EPA Administrator Carol Browner declared, “The elimination of lead from gasoline is one of the great environmental achievements of all time.”

Learn more about high-octane fuel in Flight of the Woolaroc and and early engines in Cantankerous Combustion – First U.S. Auto Show.

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The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Join AOGHS and help maintain this energy education website, expand historical research, and extend public outreach. For annual sponsorship information, contact bawells@aoghs.org. © 2020 Bruce A. Wells. All right reserved.

Citation Information – Article Title: “Ethyl Anti-Knock Gas.” Author: Aoghs.org Editors. Website Name: American Oil & Gas Historical Society. URL: https://aoghs.org/products/tetraethyl-lead-gasoline. Last Updated: December 7, 2020. Original Published Date: December 7, 2014.

 

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