Thomas Midgley Jr.
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Inventor Thomas Midgley's Obituary, Courtesy of Worthington Historical Society.
Thomas Midgley, Jr., was born on May 18, 1889. He graduated from Cornell University in 1911, and he soon found employment with Delco, a company in Dayton, Ohio. In 1916, Charles F. Kettering, founder of Delco, assigned Midgley to eradicating the persistent and loud knocking sound that early automobile engines made. Midgley quickly discovered that the knocking sound resulted from the gasoline currently being produced in the United States. Several more years of research led Midgley to discover that placing tetraethyl lead additives in the gasoline would eliminate the knocking sound. Midgley discovered this new version of gasoline, ethyl gasoline, on December 9, 1921. Unfortunately, the lead caused deposits to form on engine valves, causing engines to cease operating. Midgley then added ethylene dibromide to ethyl gasoline, which prevented the lead deposits. This new version of ethyl gasoline was sold for the first time on February 2, 1923, in Dayton, Ohio.
Unfortunately, leaded gasoline proved harmful for the environment, and today, leaded fuel is no longer used. Midgley eventually became well aware of the harmful effects of lead exposure. In 1924, he left his job for a period of time to recover from lead poisoning. Upon returning to work, Midgley held a press conference, touting the safety of lead. Eventually, he recanted his endorsement of lead.
Over the course of his life, Midgley developed 170 patents. Ethyl gasoline and chlorinated fluorocarbons, originally used in refrigeration, were his two most famous inventions. In 1940, Midgley contracted polio, which left him severely disabled and bed ridden. To assist him in getting out of bed, Midgley designed a system of ropes and pulleys. Unfortunately, on November 2, 1944, Midgley became tangled in the ropes and suffocated to death.