Thomas Midgley Jr. was a mechanical engineer in America who was born in May 1889. He was fond of carrying out experiments with poisonous chemical substances without thinking about the consequences that it can bring to the world, population, and the environment. He is known as one of the worst inventors who contributed to the environmental problems which we are facing today.
His most significant and deadly inventions include chemical antiknock agents with tetraethyl lead which is the primary material used in the leaded gasoline, the extraction of bromine from seawater, and the use of fluorine to produce refrigerating compounds. Thomas Midgley Jr. was the lead contributor to poison three generations of children, increased the risk of skin cancer and other skin related problems which were related to UV rays exposure, and also played a vital role to increase global warming.
He was a member of Charles Kettering’s team at General Motors and worked on the development of additives for gasoline. In the early 1920s, Midgley came up with an excellent idea of adding tetraethyl lead to gasoline, knowing that lead is a toxic material. This was done to solve the problem of engine knocking. Thomas talked to Charles Kettering in 1923 on a phone call and said, “Can you imagine how much money we’re going to make with this? We’re going to make 200 million dollars, maybe even more.” This call was made while he was recovering from lead poisoning after demonstrating that it is safe and inhaled the leaded gas for 60 seconds. Advertisements made for ethyl gasoline encouraged people to fill their tanks with the poisonous lead gasoline.
He knew that this invention was poisonous yet he decided to go on with it. To distract people from the hazards of gasoline the lead gasoline was given the name of a woman when advertised. It was called Ethyl gasoline. In the next 60 years, ethyl gasoline spread all over the world and damaged IQ levels, nervous system, and caused other health problems associated with the lead poisoning.
Rick Nevin, an economist and housing consultant and author of the book The Lucifer Curves: The Legacy of Lead Poisoning, found a relation between lead pollution and violent crimes. According to Nevin, the delay between lead gasoline gas exposure and poisoning and violent crimes increased in around 20 years. When New York, Washington, and Philadelphia banned the sale of lead. Several new commercials appeared on televisions to inform people about the poisonous effects that lead has, especially on the kids. Not only lead gasoline, but lead paint also causes serious health issues in children and pregnant women. Lead-based paint was also banned in 1978. However, house renovation can disturb old paint, and this can lead to exposing new properties of lead poisoning. Nearly 35% of US homes still have traces of lead-based paint.
Sale of lead gasoline was banned by The US Clean Air Act. In 1930, Thomas Midgley found that dichlorofluoromethane can be used as a refrigerant gas in home refrigerators and air conditioners. This was commercially manufactured by Kinetic Chemical with the name Freon-12. To demonstrate that it was safe, he inhaled a significant amount of the gas and then blew a candle flame to show that it was non-toxic and non-flammable. However, this gas is a significant contributor to ozone depletion and was banned for production.
The US Patent and Trademark Office granted Midgley a total of 117 patents which included his Motor Fuel patent application which was filed on January 22, 1926. He received a series of awards including the Priestley Medal in 1941 which was awarded by the American Chemical Society and the Willard Gibbs Award in 1942. Midgley was awarded two honorary degrees and was also elected as the chairman for the United States National Academy of Sciences. In 1944, he was elected president and chairman of the American Chemical Society. It was the same year when he died. At the age of 51, he contracted poliomyelitis, commonly called as polio. The disease left Midgley disabled, and he needed help all the time. Then he invented a pulley system to get out of bed without anyone’s help.
On November 2nd, 1944, Thomas Midgley died of asphyxiation. He was 55 at the time and died of his invention. The pulley cable strangled him to death when it entangled itself around his neck. Of all the inventions and scientists in the world, Midgley Jr. happens to be the one who has damaged the world the most. No one was ever capable of damaging other humans or environment as much as he did.