When Henry Ford told a New York Times reporter that ethyl
alcohol was "the fuel of the future" in 1925, he was expressing
an opinion that was widely shared in the automotive industry.
"The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that
sumach out by the road, or from apples, weeds, awdust -- almost
anything," he said. "There is fuel in every bit of vegetable
matter that can be fermented. There's enough alcohol in one
year's yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery
necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years."1
optimistic appraisal of cellulose and crop based ethyl alcohol
fuel can be read in several ways. First, it can be seen as an
oblique jab at a competitor. General Motors (and Charles
Kettering) had come to considerable grief that summer of 1925
over another octane boosting fuel called tetraethyl lead, and
government officials had been quietly in touch with Ford
engineers about alternatives to leaded gasoline additives.
importantly to Ford, in 1925 the American farms that Ford loved
were facing an economic crisis that would later intensify with
Although the causes of the crisis were complex, one possible
solution was seen in creating new markets for farm products.
With Ford's financial and political backing, the idea of opening
up industrial markets for farmers would be translated into a
broad movement for scientific research in agriculture that would
be labeled "Farm Chemurgy."
history of ethyl alcohol fuel has been partially explored by
but the historical focus of all three works tended to be on the
U.S. Farm Chemurgy Movement in the 1930s. The context of Ford's
support has not been well understood. And the ideas of Charles
F. Kettering, in particular, have been grossly misrepresented.
farmers embraced the vision of new markets for farm products,
especially alcohol fuel, three times in the 20th century: around
1906, again in the 1930s with Ford's blessing, and most
recently, during the oil crisis of the 1970s. By the mid-1980s
over one hundred corn alcohol production plants had been built
and over a billion gallons of ethyl alcohol were sold per year
in the fuel market. In the late 1980s and 1990s, with an
apparently permanent world oil glut and rock bottom fuel prices,
most of the alcohol plants shut down. Some observers joked that
ethyl alcohol was the fuel of the future -- and always would be.
"Gasohol" had become passé.
delve so deeply into this history?
infinite amounts of petroleum were available, the history of
alternative energy sources is worthy of study from many points
of view, not the least of which is the pragmatic need to
understand alternatives to oil supply from politically unstable
regions of the world. Francis Garvan noted the problem in a
speech promoting alcohol fuel at the Dearborn, Mich. "Chemurgy"
Conference on Agriculture, Industry and Science in 1936.
"They say we
have foreign oil," he said. "It is ... in Persia, and it is in
Russia. Do you think that is much defense for your children?"6
pragmatic reason to consider the history of alternative fuels
involves the risk of continued reliance on oil relative to
global climate change -- a problem more recently appreciated.
pragmatic justifications, historians of technology have long
noted a general preoccupation with "success stories" to an
extent that might be called "whiggish." Research into some of
the "roads not taken" would provide history with better focus
and broader perspective, according to historian John
Staudenmier.7 The direction a technology takes is too often seen
as a result of pre-determined or inevitable conditions that
arise from intrinsic properties of a technology, rather than
from industry preference or policy choice.
has long been used as an automotive fuel in two ways: First, it
replaces gasoline outright in a somewhat modified internal
combustion engine; and secondly, it is an effective "octane
booster" when mixed with gasoline in blends of 10 to 30 percent
and requires no engine modification. These blends achieve the
same octane boosting (or anti-knock) effects as
petroleum-derived aromatics like benzine or metallic additives
like tetraethyl lead.
Many people are
familiar with "Gasohol," a popular fuel blend in the American
Midwest in the late 1970s, which was a blend of ten percent
ethyl alcohol and gasoline. (Fuel pumps are now simply labeled
"with 10 percent ethanol."). Most people are not familiar with
the other fuel blends using alcohol. "Gasonol" (with an "n") was
a blend of 20 percent sugar cane alcohol with gasoline and
kerosene used in the Philippians in the 1930s. Koolmotor,
Benzalcool, Moltaco, Lattybentyl, Natelite, Alcohol and Agro are
some of the other obscure but interesting blends of fuels once
found in Britain, Italy, Hungary, Sweden, South Africa, Brazil
and the U.S. (respectively) in the 1920s and 1930s.
have generally worked against the use of alcohol in favor of
petroleum, but it is simplistic to view the problem simply in
terms of relative consumer expense. Prices for ethyl alcohol
blends and high octane gasoline are in the same relative range,
and alcohol has been cheaper at times in various countries,
depending on international politics and national tariff and
In its cultural
and political context, alternative fuels -- especially ethyl
alcohol -- have held a politically strategic and symbolic
significance among advocates and opponents alike that goes far
beyond the simple substitution of one product for another.
Opponents have seen ethyl alcohol fuel as a scheme for robbing
taxpayers to enrich farmers, as turning food for the poor into
fuel for the rich, as compounding soil erosion problems, and as
a marginally useful enhancement or replacement fuel for a
transportation system that is poorly designed in the first
place. Advocates have seen in alcohol fuels the potential for
revolutionizing agricultural economics, for dispelling city
smog, and for curbing the power of the petroleum industry over
the economy. In addition, the idea that agriculture and
biological resources could be primary sources of energy, the
idea that humankind could live on solar "income" rather than
fossil fuel "capital," has held a fascination for several
generations of automotive and agricultural engineers. Proponents
could see in ethyl alcohol the potential to help strike balance
between city and farm and the prospect of civilizing and
humanizing industrial machinery.
this hope is graphically depicted in the symbolism used at the
1902 Paris alcohol fuel exposition. On the cover of the
exposition's proceedings, a muse with an overflowing bouquet of
roses looks down over the steering wheel with a confident smile.
She is a portrait of wisdom and beauty, firmly in control of a
gentle machine which seems appropriately located in some lush
Rhetoric of the
technological sublime, as it has been called, frequently attends
the birth of any new technology, and of course there is nothing
surprising about the high hopes of French automobile enthusiasts
for alcohol fuel in 1902. While the spirit of the marriage was
not always as artfully depicted, many of the great scientific
minds of the 20th century expressed their support and interest
specifically in alcohol as a high quality fuel and the general
idea of opening vast new industrial markets for farm products.
These included Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison
and Charles F. Kettering.
alcohol "a wonderfully clean-burning fuel ... that can be
produced from farm crops, agricultural wastes, and even
garbage."9 Henry Ford, who idealized country life despite his
contribution to the urbanization of America, hoped that alcohol
could help power a rural renaissance. Thomas Edison backed the
idea of industrial uses for farm products, and respected Ford's
vision of the fuel of the future.10 Charles Kettering and
protégés Thomas Midgely and T.A. Boyd noted that the "most
direct route which we now know for converting energy from its
source, the sun, into a material suitable for use as a fuel is
through vegetation to alcohol..."11 Kettering's interest is
particularly important because, as we will see, he was
enthusiastic about alcohol fuel even after the discovery of
tetraethyl lead. In fact, Kettering originally planned that the
octane boosting power of leaded gasoline would pave the way for
the fuel of the future -- ethyl alcohol from cellulosic biomass.
ranging competition between gasoline and alcohol fuels around
the turn of the century is not today as well known today as a
similar competition between steam and electric automobiles with
gasoline powered automobiles.12 Nevertheless, the competition
from alcohol fuel was a well recognized fact at the time.
Hundreds of magazine articles, reports, books and technical
papers were written about alcohol fuel from the 1900 - 1926
period before and during the "Ethyl" leaded gasoline
controversy, and hundreds more were published in the 1926-1960
Alcohol Fuel before the Discovery of Petroleum
The history of
energy is loaded with inaccuracies and myths. One myth is that
Edwin Drake's first oil well, drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859,
arrived in the nick of time to replace a rapidly dwindling
supply of whale oil. Actually, as we will see, a variety of lamp
fuels were common in the U.S. and Europe through the 19th and
early 20th centuries. These fuels offered the most logical
starting point in the search for portable liquid fuels which
inventors would use in the internal combustion engine.
included all kinds of 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). The most popular fuel in the
U.S. before petroleum was a blend of alcohol and turpentine
called "camphene" or simply "burning fluid."
The " whale oil
myth," appears in many places, most recently in the history of
the oil industry, The Prize, which hailed kerosene as "the new
light which pushed back the night and extended the working day."
It was a "marvel to eyes that had strained to see by means of a
lighted rag,"14 A recent Smithsonian exhibit provided a similar
perspective: "It was the discovery of petroleum in 1859 that
kindled the revolution in artificial lighting," the exhibit
said. "Kerosene ...was cheap and relatively clean. Lamp
companies had sprung up immediately and by the 1870s virtually
everyone could enjoy indoor lighting." 15 This traditional error
is found in many other accounts of the history of energy.
According to a 1960 history, "petroleum arrived on the scene in
answer to a world-wide quest for a new source of artificial
light."16 In an Ethyl Corp. magazine of 1943, for example, we
find the following:
first half of the 19th century, scientists eagerly sought to
develop better lighting fuels ... At that time, rural America
for the most part depended on whale oil and sperm oil lamps to
light its homes, and upon beeswax and tallow candles. Supplies,
however, were limited and were becoming insufficient to meet a
constantly growing demand."17
seem to be inspired examples of rhetoric of the technological
sublime. They are also fiction. In fact, kerosene came into an
already well-established liquid fuel system with full scale
production, distribution and end-use technology well in place.
In other words, kerosene replaced other fuels; it did not emerge
to light up a previously dark world.
In the 30 or 40
years before petroleum was discovered in Pennsylvania, the
leading fuel was "camphene" (sometimes simply called "burning
fluid"). It was a blend of high-proof ethyl alcohol with 20 to
50 percent turpentine to color the flame and a few drops of
camphor oil to mask the turpentine smell. Alcohol for camphene
was an important mainstay for distilleries, and many sold
between one third and 80 percent of their product on the fuel
market.18 The first U.S. patent for alcohol as a lamp fuel was
awarded in 1834 to S. Casey, of Lebanon, Maine but it is clear
that alcohol was routinely used a fuel beforehand.19 Samuel
Morey used the readily available alcohol in the first American
prototype internal combustion engine at the surprisingly early
date of 1826.20 We should note that Morey's work was lost in the
enthusiasm for the steam engine and a lack of funding. No other
internal combustion engine would be developed until Nicholas
Otto began his experiments 35 years later.
By the late
1830s, alcohol blends had replaced increasingly expensive whale
oil in most parts of the country. It "easily took the lead as
the illuminant" because it was "a decided improvement on other
oils then in use," (especially lard oils) according to a lamp
manufacturer's "History of Light."21 By 1860, thousands of
distilleries churned out at least 90 million gallons of alcohol
per year for lighting.22 In the 1850s, 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"23 (literally "sun fuel").
petroleum was a good 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, but 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
While a gradual
shift from burning fluid (or spirit lamps) to kerosene 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. "The manufacture of burning
fluid for lighting suddenly ceased; happily, it was replaced by
petroleum, which was about to be discovered."25 Similarly, C.J.
Zintheo, of the US Department of Agriculture, said that 90
million gallons of alcohol per year were used for lighting,
cooking, and industry before the tax was imposed.26 Meanwhile,
use of oil shot up from almost nothing in 1860 to over 200
million gallons in 1870.27 "The effect was disastrous to great
industries, which, if [they were to be] saved from ruin, had to
be rapidly revolutionized," according to Irish engineer Robert
The distress in
the alcohol industry may be reflected in the number of patents
for various combinations of burning fluids. Between 1861 and
1867, the patent office issued 32 different patents for burning
fluids, alcohol or camphene blends; only five had been awarded
in the previous 33 years. After 1867, no patents for "burning
fluids" are listed.29 The dramatic increase in numbers of
patents, as alcohol became prohibitively expensive, may reflect
desperate attempts to find new combinations of inflammable
liquids to replace the product of the rapidly dying alcohol fuel
growth of the petroleum industry in the 1860s was greatly aided
by the heavy federal tax on its primary competitor .The myth
that petroleum was at first a dramatic deliverance from the
darkness, and then the only important fuel for the horseless
carriage, indicates the extent to which oil industry historians
have been influenced by the rhetoric of the technological
sublime. In fact, early automotive inventors resorted to both
petroleum and alcohol spirit lamp fuels as readily available
the Horseless Carriage
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 to early experiments with gunpowder
in the late 1600s. 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.30
authentic internal combustion engine in America, developed by
Samuel Morey around 1826, ran on ethyl alcohol and turpentine.
It powered an experimental wagon and a small boat at eight miles
per hour up the Connecticut river. Morey, like many other
inventors, was never able to attract financing for his idea and
only the prototype was built.31
developer of the internal combustion engine was German inventor
Nicholas August Otto. In 1860, Otto used ethyl alcohol as a fuel
in an early engine because it was widely available 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. But a January 1861 patent application with
the Kingdom of Prussia was turned down, probably because heated
alcohol carburetion was already being widely used in spirit
lamps.32 It is interesting to note that Otto's initial financing
came from Eugene Langen, who owned 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
engine prototypes were developed using alcohol or turpentine,
including US inventor George Brayton's engine developed in the
1870s. 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.
Alcohol Fuel in Europe 1890 - 1914
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.33 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.
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.34 By 1896,
horseless carriages were showing up on roads in Europe and the
United States, and internal combustion engines were also
beginning to replace steam engines in light machinery and farm
equipment. 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.
One of these
races took place in 1899 with four alcohol fueled vehicles
racing from Paris to Chantilly. Only one made the entire
distance.35 Two years later, 50 vehicles ranging from light
quadracycles to heavy trucks made the 167 mile trek from Paris
to Roubaix. The rallys were sponsored by the Automobile Club of
Paris and fuels varying from pure alcohol to 50 percent alcohol
and 50 percent gasoline were measured for each vehicle before
and after the 1902 rally. Most drivers apparently preferred the
of automobiles held every year contained large proportions of
alcohol fueled cars, and the growing enthusiasm was reflected in
the 1902 Paris exhibit (mentioned above in the introduction).
The exhibit was devoted to alcohol powered automobiles, farm
machinery and a wide variety of lamps, stoves, heaters, laundry
irons, hair curlers, coffee roasters and every conceivable
household appliance and agricultural engine powered by alcohol.
Many of these were not experimental items but represented a well
established industry. By one estimate, some 95,000 alcohol
fueled stoves and 37,000 spirit lamps were made in Germany in
1902.37 The exhibit published a set of papers and speeches,.38
and was reported in many newspapers and technical journals of
the day. Eight other exhibitions and congresses on alcohol fuels
took place -- in Germany, France, Italy and Spain between 1901
and 1904.39 Meanwhile, French fuel alcohol production rose from
2.7 million gallons in 1900 to 5.7 million gallons in 1903 and
8.3 million in 1905.40 Enthusiasm over the marriage of
agriculture and industry in alcohol fuel was not the only
motivation for French interest. A very practical problem was the
decline in French sugar beet exports and rising surplus of many
crops. Another concern was the increase in oil imports from the
U.S. and the lack of domestic oil reserves.41
also concerned about a domestic fuel supply that would also
provide farmers with new markets for crops. In 1899, the German
government organized the Centrale fur Spiritus Verwerthung
(office of alcohol sales) which maintained alcohol prices at an
equilibrium with petroleum at around the equivalent of 27 cents
per gallon through subsidies to alcohol producers and a tariff
on imported oil.42 Other incentives included scientific prizes,
including a medallion from the emperor offered for the best
alcohol engines. As a result, alcohol production rose from 10
million gallons to about 26 million gallons between 1887 and
1904.43 "To Kaiser William II, it seems, we are indebted for the
great, new industry," said a New York Times magazine writer in
1906. "Not that he discovered the fuel, but that he forced its
use on Germany. The Kaiser was enraged at the Oil Trust of his
country, and offered prizes to his subjects and cash assistance
... to adapt [alcohol] to use in the industries."44
According to a
representative of the Otto Gas Engine Works of Philadelphia, by
1906 ten percent of the engines being produced by the firm's
parent company in Germany were designed to run on pure ethyl
alcohol, while one third of the heavy locomotives produced at
the Deutz Gas engine works of Germany ran on pure ethyl
alcohol.45 Alcohol engines were advertised as safer than steam
engines (as they did not give off sparks from smokestacks) and
far cleaner than kerosene or gasoline engines. In a survey
conducted around 1903, some 87 percent of German farmers
considered alcohol engines to be equal or superior to steam
engines in performance.46 Conflicting reports on the number of
German distilleries at least give some idea of the scale of the
enterprise. By one 1906 account, some 72,000 distilleries
operated, of which 57,000 were small farm "Materialbrennereien"
stills producing a total of 27 million gallons.47 Another
account, from 1914, put the number at 6,000 distilleries
producing 66 million gallons of alcohol per year.48
stills may have had the effect of prolonging World War I.
According to Irish engineer Robert Tweedy, when oil shortages
seemed likely to paralyze Germany's transportation system in
1915, thousands of engines were quickly modified. "Every motor
car in the empire was adapted to run on alcohol. It is possible
that Germany would have been beaten already [by 1917] if
production of alcohol had not formed an important part of the
Congress Lifts Alcohol Tax in 1906
farmers watched the growing use of alcohol fuel in Europe with
great interest. Their markets were glutted with grain surpluses
created when vast new tracts of virgin prairie were plowed under
to produce bumper crops. To absorb these surpluses, many looked
to the market for liquid fuels created by the widespread
acceptance of the automobile. It seemed logical to replace their
declining market for horses by growing fuel for the horseless
attempts had already been made to remove the $2.08 federal tax
placed on alcohol during the Civil War.. In 1894 the Wilson
tariff bill allowed a rebate of taxes on alcohol for industrial
uses, but the Treasury Dept. refused to issue regulations.
Manufacturers tried to claim the rebate but lost in court. In
1896 a joint committee studied the issue, and minutes show
opposition from wood alcohol (methyl) producers.
In 1906, the
farm lobby found an ally in President Theodore Roosevelt, a
bitter foe of the oil industry. Although embroiled in other
disputes at the time, Roosevelt sent a message of support for
the repeal of the alcohol tax to the House of Representatives,
saying it provided a possible check to the depredations of the
oil trust.50 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.
When the Senate
Finance Committee attempted to table the "Free Alcohol" bill,
the president of the Automobile Club of America said that he was
considerably surprised and disappointed at the Senate committee,
although he did not think Standard Oil would oppose the bill.
"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."51 U.S. Senator Champ Clark of Missouri, however,
placed "the Rockefellers" squarely in the opposing camp as
attempting to retain the tax on a potential competitor.52
1906, the Senate committee relented and the New York Times
reported the bill was likely to be approved. "It is only the
heavy tax imposed by the United States that has prevented the
use of a large number of vegetable products for the manufacture
of exceedingly cheap and available alcohol," a Times editorial
said. These sources included potatoes in the West, sugar beets
in Michigan, and cheap imported molasses in the east. A report
from the U.S. ambassador to Cuba noted alcohol made there cost
10 cents per gallon, and with improved methods in the U.S. it
could cost even less when made from imported molasses. "The
chief opponents, at least the open opponents, have been the
manufacturers of wood alcohol," the Times said.53
manufacturers supported the bill wholeheartedly. A
representative of the Detroit Board of Commerce, James S. Capen,
told the Senate Finance Committee that alcohol was "preferable"
to gasoline because it was safer, "absolutely clean and
sanitary," and because "artificial shortages" could not raise
the price in the future. The biggest problem for auto makers,
Capen said, was not so much cost as the question of long term
passed the bill May 24, 1906, and the New York Times again noted
the low cost of alcohol (14 cents from corn, nine and a half
cents from molasses) as compared to the high price of kerosene
and gasoline (18 and 22 cents, respectively). "The new fuel and
illuminant will utilize completely an important class of
agricultural crops and byproducts thus benefiting in a double
sense the farms and villages throughout the country," an
editorial said.55 Roosevelt signed the bill June 8, 1906.
bills specifically exempting farm stills from government
controls passed shortly afterwards, and triumphant farm belt
senators, like North Dakota's Hansbrough, proclaimed that "every
farmer could have a still" to supply heat, light and power at
low prices. "Advocates look forward with hope to a big change in
the farmers life," the New York Times reported. "If the law
accomplishes what is hoped it will... make a revolution on the
that while alcohol would probably not drive out gasoline
entirely, "it will find its field as every other fuel energy
has." More typical was the statement of a National Grange master
who predicted an immediate market for 100 million gallons of
alcohol. Along with a large additional market for farm crops,
alcohol would serve as a "balance wheel to maintain an
equilibrium" in commodity prices.56
The lofty farm
rhetoric obscured a difficult economic picture, but the bill
kindled interest in alcohol fuels among farmers who wanted new
markets and automakers who wanted to continue to have a market
if oil were to run out. Pure alcohol fuel went on sale in
Peoria, Illinois at 32 cents per gallon in January, 1907 as the
tax took effect, and prices elsewhere hovered around 25 to 30
cents. At the same time, gasoline prices at 18 to 22 cents per
gallon were beginning to drop as new Texas oil fields came on
line and found markets on the East Coast. These new fields were
brought in by independent oil companies, especially Gulf and the
Texas Co. (Texaco). Suddenly, the future for alcohol fuel seemed
more remote than anticipated.
"Of all the
chimerical projects ever foisted upon Congress, the free
denatured alcohol scheme has proved the greatest
disappointment," said a news column in the New York Times in
1907. With only ten alcohol plants built under the new law,
"gasoline, kerosene and electricity are still being used." One
disappointed farm machinery manufacturer said the problem was a
lack of frugality among Americans; the manufacturer said German
farm stills often used "cull" crops that had been partly damaged
or spoiled. Meanwhile, an Internal Revenue commissioner noted
that Germany protected farm alcohol with tariffs on petroleum
imports, and said that fuel prices there were the equivalent of
15 to 27 cents per gallon.57 USDA set up a demonstration small
scale alcohol still in the Bureau of Chemistry with "the aim of
creating a body of experts who would return to their districts
filled up with enthusiasm and knowledge which would be served
out to farmers." In 1908, fourteen experts were trained; in 1909
only four could be trained, and the project was abandoned. The
U.S. commissioner of revenue noted in 1910 that no alcohol had
been used for fuel, and in 1911 he reported that a new
industrial alcohol industry was unlikely.
revive the moribund hopes of the alcohol industry proved futile.
In 1914 the Free Alcohol bill was amended again to decrease the
regulatory burden, but one observer said that the small
distillery "is only a myth in this country." In 1915,
Congressional hearings on more demonstrations and proposals for
an Industrial Alcohol Commission within the Department of
Agriculture were held, but the proposals were turned down. "The
theater is open, the stage is set, but the play does not begin.
There are no actors..." said Tweedy.58
grain and potatoes, at about 25 to 30 cents per gallon, was far
too expensive to compete with petroleum, but alcohol from Cuban
molasses, at 10 cents per gallon, was thought to be competitive.
Some observers suspected a conspiracy in the fact that Standard
Oil of New Jersey had financial ties to the Caribbean alcohol
market. The influence of an oil company over the alcohol
industry was "a combination which many will regard as sinister,"
said Tweedy.59 In 1942, Senate committees began looking into the
extent to which the oil industry had controlled other
industries, including the alcohol industry and the rubber
industry. Attorney General Thurmond Arnold testified that
anti-trust investigations had taken place into the oil
industry's influence in the alcohol industry in the 1913-1920
period, in the early 1920s, and between 1927 and 1936. "Renewed
complaints in 1939 were brought to the anti-trust division but
because of funds no action was taken," Arnold said.60 Then the
investigation of 1941 which exposed a "marriage" between
Standard Oil Co. and the German chemical company I.G. Farben
also brought new evidence concerning complex price and marketing
agreements between du Pont Corp., a major investor in and
producer of leaded gasoline, U.S. Industrial Alcohol Co. and
their subsidiary, Cuba Distilling Co. The investigation was
eventually dropped, like dozens of others in many different
kinds of industries, due to the need to enlist industry support
in the war effort. However, the top directors of many oil
companies agreed to resign and oil industry stocks in molasses
companies were sold off as part of a compromise worked out with
Investigations of Alcohol Fuels 1890 - 1920
journals contain hundreds of references to alcohol fuel at the
dawn of the automotive era. 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 anhydrous alcohol production
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..."62 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.63 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."64 USGS continued
the comparative tests and later noted that alcohol was "a more
ideal fuel than gasoline" with better efficiency despite the
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.66 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.67 On the other hand, a British
researcher named Watson found that thermal efficiencies for
alcohol, benzene and gasoline were very nearly equal.68
experiments are representative of work underway before and
during World War I. The conclusions were so definitive that
Scientific American concluded in 1918: "It is now definitely
established that alcohol can be blended with gasoline to produce
a suitable motor fuel ..."69 By 1920, the consensus, Scientific
American said, was "a universal assumption that [ethyl] alcohol
in some form will be a constituent of the motor fuel of the
future." Alcohol met all possible technical objections, and
although it was more expensive than gasoline, it was not
prohibitively expensive in blends with gasoline. "Every chemist
knows [alcohol and gasoline] will mix, and every engineer knows
[they] will drive an internal combustion engine."70
after the war, the British Fuel Research Board actively
researched military and civilian fuels. W.R. Ormandy in 1918
said that alcohol and coal based fuels could replace oil in the
post-war period, and Ormandy noted that only five percent of the
American grain crop would meet requirements for a blended
fuel.71 The board's committee on "power alcohol" noted the
absence of technical problems a year later, although it
concluded that "alcohol cannot compete with gasoline at present
prices."72 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."73 Also, B.R. Tunnison
reported in 1920 the anti-knock effects of alcohol blends in
gasoline and said mileage was improved.74
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."75
The absence of knocking is significant, since London omnibus
studies were widely reported and well known two years before
leaded gasoline was discovered and six years before oil industry
representatives told government officials that alternatives to
leaded gasoline did not exist.76 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 a
value of demonstrating the flexibility of technology, road tests
proved to be an unreliable index of mileage and thermal
efficiency. A German road test of benzene alcohol blends found
that the 50 /50 alcohol benzene mixture had 30 percent better
mileage than gasoline.78 Because of the unreliability of such
road tests, Thomas Midgely in the U.S. and H.R. Ricardo in
Britain developed reference engines, indicators, and measuring
apparatus for showing the exact extent of knocking. Midgely's
system led to the development of iso-octane as a reference fuel,
and eventually, the "octane" system of measuring anti-knock.
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 "octane" measured anti-knock with a reference
fuel. Ricardo concluded that the low burning rate of alcohol
lessens the tendency to knock, and that, using toluene as the
reference point at 100 anti-knock, alcohol had a 130 rating. 79
difficulties with alcohol fuels were known: cold starting was
one, and E.C. Freeland and W.G. Harry noted in a chemical
society paper that blends of small amounts of ether in alcohol
could solve the problem.80 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
and chemists used 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.81
technical research into ethyl alcohol as a fuel ranged from
neutral to extremely positive, with very few negative findings.
By 1925, an American researcher speaking at the same New York
Chemists Club told an audience:
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.
Yet in the
1930s, oil industry opponents of alcohol blends in the US
claimed that technical problems prohibited their use. "Alcohol
is much inferior, gallon for gallon, to gasoline as a motor
fuel," claimed the American Petroleum Industries Committee.
While admitting there was some anti-knock advantage, the
committee said the blends would be "unstable in the presence of
small amounts of accidental moisture."83 The American Petroleum
Institute's Conger Reynolds, in a 1939 barb aimed at Henry Ford
and the Farm Chemurgy conferences of the 1930s, said:
"With all due
deference for the dream chemists, armchair farmers and
platform orators who have touted alcohol-gasoline as the
greatest of all fuels, oil industry technologists know and
automotive engineers know that it is not as satisfactory a
fuel as straight gasoline of normal quality."84
The context of
Reynolds speech to fellow oil men was that of fending off (by
his count) 19 federal bills and 31 state bills on alcohol
gasoline tax incentives and blending programs between 1933 and
1939. To be forced to use alcohol gasoline would mean giving
consumers an inferior fuel at an exorbitant cost, Reynolds said.
At the time, the API had virtually no technical data to back up
claims of inferiority. The vast bulk of scientific research
pointed very much in favor of alcohol blended fuels. That soon
changed as industry-sponsored tests found phase separation, cold
starting and other problems. Ten years later, British researcher
S.J.W. Pleeth would observe:
aroused by the use of alcohol as a motor fuel has produced
[research] results that are incompatible with each other ...
Countries with considerable oil deposits -- such as the US --
or which control oil deposits of other lands -- such as
Holland -- tend to produce reports antithetical to the use of
fuels alternative to petrol; countries with little or no
indigenous oil tend to produce favorable reports. The contrast
... is most marked. One can scarcely avoid the conclusion that
the results arrived at are those best suited to the political
or economic aims of the country concerned or the industry
sponsoring the research. We deplore this partisan use of
science, while admitting its existence, even in the present
Automakers, Alcohol Fuels and Ethyl Leaded Gasoline
War I, U.S. automakers were aware of the potential for alcohol
fuel, but given the short-term economic picture, stayed with
gasoline and low compression engines. Most popular cars, such as
the Ford Model T, had low compression engines, an adjustable
carburetor and a spark advance that made it possible to switch
from gasoline to alcohol to kerosene as needed. Despite Ford's
later support for alcohol fuel in the 1920s and 1930s, the only
fuel the company actually handled was "Fordsol," benzine from
Ford factory coking operations and regular gasoline. Some early
auto manufacturers, such as the Olds Gas Power Company, offered
a simple mixer attachment for alcohol and found that "under
actual operating conditions... the fuel consumption per
horsepower is about the same, pound for pound, whether using
alcohol or gasoline." The Hart-Parr Company, a tractor
manufacturer based in Charles City, Iowa, commented in 1907: "We
have watched with great interest, and added our efforts to help
bring about the free use of alcohol for power purposes... Our
engine is so constructed that alcohol can be used with very
little change ..." 86
Steel and Machinery Co. began making alcohol engines for
tractors in 1909, and with increasing demand for alcohol powered
farm equipment after World War I, began intensive studies on a
more efficient alcohol engine. "In our opinion alcohol is an
ideal fuel," said researcher A.W. Scarratt, because it vaporized
at a practically constant temperature and it formed no carbon
deposits. "We believe the entire automobile industry should get
behind this idea and bring it to pass as quickly as possible so
as to provide another source of fuel supply and to bring down
the operating costs of all equipment depending now on
After World War
I, the focus of fuel research shifted into two directions. One
research direction led to the discovery of a metallic additive
called tetra ethyl lead. The story of how General Motors
researchers Thomas Midgley and Charles F. Kettering discovered
it has often been told.88 However, the second research direction
into the "fuel of the future" is not well known.
Midgley's initial research into fuel involved work on DELCO
generators and airplane engines in World War I. In a report on
the war research, Midgley wrote: "Engineers have heretofore
believed knocking to be the unavoidable result of too high a
compression, and while the fact that [ethyl] alcohol did not
knock at extremely high compressions was well known, it was
[erroneously] attributed to its extremely high ignition point
.."89 The point was generally understood by scientists and
military technology experts. For example, a naval committee
concluded in 1920 that alcohol gasoline blends "withstand high
compression without producing knock."90
who had become General Motors vice president of research and the
president of the Society of Automotive Engineers, noted two
directions in fuel research in a 1919 speech to the society.
There was, he said, a "high percentage" direction, with blends
of up to 20 percent or more of benzine or alcohol; the other was
a "low percentage" additive, such as iodine, which was too
expensive to be practical but pointed to the possibility of
other additives.91 The low percentage research effort would lead
to the discovery of leaded gasoline in 1921.
Around 1920 and
1921, Kettering came to believe that alcohol fuel from renewable
resources would be the answer to the compression problem and the
possibility of an oil shortage. Along with his British
counterpart, H.R. Ricardo, Kettering settled on alcohol as the
key to unshackling the internal combustion engine from
non-renewable fossil fuels," said historian Stuart Leslie.
"Ethanol (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." 92
urging, General Motors began to consider just what would be
involved in a total switch from petroleum to alcohol fuel. One
G.M. researcher reported that some 46 percent of all foodstuffs
would have to be converted to alcohol to replace gasoline on a
BTU for BTU basis.93 In another G.M. study, T.A. Boyd surveyed
the steep rise in number of new cars and the increasing
difficulty of providing new fuel supplies. The solution, Boyd
said, would be to use other fuels, and benzene and alcohol
"appear to be very promising allies" to petroleum.94 Alcohol was
the "most direct route ... for converting energy from its
source, the sun, into a material that is suitable for a fuel..."
advantages of cleanliness and high antiknock rating, there were
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 8.3 billion gallon per year demand for gasoline. But
the possibility of using such a large amount of food acreage for
fuel "seems very unlikely," he said.95 In a speech 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."96
Midgley and Boyd apparently framed the question in terms of
totally replacing gasoline, although a related goal of the
research was to create antiknock additives. It stands to reason
that if a 20 percent blend of alcohol were to be used in all
fuel, then (using Boyd's figure) only about nine percent of
grain and sugar crops would be needed. Since grain was in
surplus after the war, American farmers probably would have
welcomed a new market for their crop, and the kinds of supply
problems in the G.M. and du Pont studies would probably not have
materialized. Also, with Prohibition, distillers would have
welcomed a new use for their services. Another problem with
Kettering's analysis demonstrates a lack of understanding of
agriculture and the distilling industry. Grain is not "used" for
fuel; it is fed to cattle after it is distilled with no loss in
food value. This is as true of brewers' grains from beer
distilleries as it is of fuel facilities.
Thus, supply of
an additive would not have been the problem that G.M. engineers
apparently assumed that it would have been. However, since the
original studies on fuel alcohol are missing from the archives,
and it is difficult to fathom the reason for their narrow frame
of reference.97 One reasonable explanation is that Kettering,
Boyd and Midgley were preoccupied with the long-term replacement
of petroleum. In 1920 and 1921 they were not technically or
politically opposed to ethyl alcohol as a straight fuel or in
blends with gasoline. Kettering spoke out against taxes on
alcohol as an impediment to fuel research and helped overcome
other obstacles.98 In 1920, K.W. Zimmerschied of G.M.'s New York
headquarters wrote Kettering to note that foreign use of alcohol
fuel "is getting more serious every day in connection with
export cars, and anything we can do toward building our
carburetors so they can be easily adapted to alcohol will be
appreciated by all." Kettering assured him that the adaptation
"is a thing which is very readily taken care of," and said that
G.M. could rapidly change the floats in carburetors from
lacquered cork to metal.99 Midgley also filed a patent
application for a blend of alcohol and cracked (olefin) gasoline
on February 28, 1920, clearly intending it to be an antiknock
The problem of
the long-term resource base for the fuel of the future continued
to worry Kettering and Midgley. At one point they became
interested in work on cellulose conversion to fermentable sugar
being performed by Prof. Harold Hibbert at Yale University.
Hibbert was a visionary, and pointed out that the 1920 U.S.G.S.
oil reserve report had serious implications for his work. "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." But chemists might be able to solve
the problem, Hibbert said, by converting abundant cellulose
waste from farm crops, timber operations and seaweed into ethyl
alcohol.101 In the summer of 1920, Boyd and his family moved to
New Haven so that he could study with Hibbert. Boyd found
Hibbert impressive but the volume of literature about cellulose
hydrolysis and synthesis was overwhelming. 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.102
Boyd did insist
that a source of alcohol "in addition to foodstuffs" must be
found, and that the source would undoubtedly be cellulose: "It
is readily available, it is easily produced and its supply is
renewable." Using it and returning farm crop residues to the
soil would not harm soil fertility. But the problem of
developing a commercial process for cellulose conversion to
alcohol was serious, he had learned in his stay with Hibbert. A
ton of wood yielded only 20 gallons of alcohol in the least
expensive "weak acid" process, whereas a commercially profitable
"weak acid" process would need a yield of at least 50 gallons,
and possibly 60 to 65. Such yields had been achieved with the
"strong acid" process, but that technology was complex and more
expensive. Still, success might be found if the "strong acid"
yield could be obtained in a weak acid process, and as a result,
"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
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. This was only two months before tetraethyl lead was
discovered. "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."103 Another unnamed engineer
(probably from G.M., possibly Boyd) 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."104 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 $2 per gallon. However, other alternatives looked
even more problematic -- oil shale wouldn't work, and coal would
only bring in about 20 percent of the total fuel need.105
Kettering's interest in ethyl alcohol fuel did not fade once
tetraethyl lead was discovered as an antiknock in December,
1921. In fact, not only was ethyl alcohol a source of continued
interest as an antiknock agent, but more significantly, it was
still considered to be the fuel that would eventually replace
petroleum. A May, 1922 memo from Midgley to Kettering was a
response to a report on alcohol production from the Mexican
"century" plant, a desert plant that contains fermentable
sugars. Midgley said he was "not impressed" with the process as
a way to make motor fuel:
alcohol is the fuel of the future and is playing its part in
tropical countries situated similar [sic] to Mexico. Alcohol can
be produced in those countries for approximately 7 - 1/2 cents
per gallon from many other sources than the century plant, and
the quantities which are suggested as possibilities in this
report are insignificantly small compared to motor fuel
requirements. However, as a distillery for beverage purposes,
these gentlemen may have a money making proposition.106
chemists tinkered with various processes to produce tetraethyl
lead in a nearby lab, Midgley and Boyd continued working on
alcohol for fuel. In a June 1922 Society of Automotive Engineers
paper, they said:
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." 107 (Italics indicate section omitted from printed
1922, Midgley and Boyd wrote 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."108 At the time the paper was written,
in late spring or early summer 1922, tetraethyl lead was still a
secret within the company, but it was about to be announced to
fellow scientists and test marketed. The reference to a means to
"bridge the threatened gap" and increase in the efficiency of
gasoline clearly implies the use of tetraethyl lead or some
other additive to pave the way to new fuel sources.
is consistent with an important statement in an unpublished 1936
legal history of Ethyl Gasoline for the du Pont corporation:
It is also of
interest to recall that an important special motive for this
[tetraethyl lead] 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. 109
the time Kettering and Midgley researched anti-knock fuels (1916
to 1925), and especially after tetraethyl lead was discovered in
December of 1921, there were two "ethyls" on the horizon for
General Motors: Ethyl leaded gasoline, which would serve as a
transitional efficiency booster for gasoline, and ethyl alcohol,
the "fuel of the future" that would keep America's cars on the
roads no matter what happened to domestic or world oil supply.
Thus, Kettering's strategy in the post World War I years was to
prepare cars for high-octane alternative fuels.
switched gears sometime in 1923 or 1924. When controversy broke
out about the public health impacts of leaded gasoline in 1924,
Midgley and Kettering told the media, fellow scientists and the
government that no alternatives existed. "So far as science
knows at the present time," Midgley told a meeting of
scientists, "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."110 And at a Public Health
Service conference on leaded gasoline in 1925, Kettering said:
"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."111 Even though experts like
Alice Hamilton of Harvard University insisted that alternatives
to leaded gasoline were available,112 the Public Health Service
allowed leaded gasoline to remain on the market in 1926. (Leaded
gasoline was banned in 1986 in the US for the same public health
concerns that had been expressed 60 years earlier).
Kettering and Midgley came up with another fuel called "Synthol"
in the summer of 1925, at a time when the fate of leaded
gasoline was in doubt. Synthol was made from alcohol, benzene
and a metallic additive -- either tetraethyl lead or iron
carbonyl. Used in combination with a new high compression engine
much smaller than ordinary engines, Synthol would "revolutionize
transportation."113 When Ethyl leaded gasoline was permitted to
return to the market in 1926, Kettering and Midgley dropped the
mid-1930s, the alliance between General Motors, DuPont Corp. and
Standard Oil to produce Ethyl leaded gasoline succeeded beyond
all expectations: 90 percent of all gasoline contained lead.
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 said Ethyl gasoline "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."114
comparison between leaded gasoline and alcohol blends proved so
controversial in the 1920s and 1930s that government studies
were kept quiet or not published. For instance, a Commerce
Department report dated May 15, 1925 detailed dozens of
instances of alcohol fuel use worldwide.115 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, or 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
International Use of Alcohol Fuels, 1920s and 30s
mid-1920s ethyl alcohol was routinely blended with gasoline in
every industrialized nation except the United States. 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
insecure supplies of oil during World War I led to a research
program at the Pasteur Institute on sources of alcohol,
including marine biomass sources like kelp.118 Continued
research by a national fuels committee appointed in 1921 led to
a recommendations of a national fuel consisting of 40 to 50
percent alcohol, and on Feb. 28, 1923, "Article 6" required
gasoline importers to buy at alcohol from a state monopoly at a
volume of at least 10 percent of their gasoline imports.
"Article 7" provided a five-Franc per hectoliter tax on gasoline
to help subsidize the alcohol monopoly. The blend, often
reaching as much as 50 percent in some fuels, was not well
accepted by consumers who were using engines which were
specifically adapted to gasoline. At a minimum, carburetor
settings needed to be changed to allow a greater fuel volume
when the percentage of alcohol in the gasoline rose above 20 to
30 percent, and bitter complaints flowed in from motor clubs and
garages.119 Amendments to the law in 1926 and 1931 helped create
a more workable blend, and alcohol fuel use rose from 7.8
million gallons per year in 1925 to 20 million gallons in 1932.
French government was initially one of the most enthusiastic
toward alcohol, by 1932 so many other nations had surpassed the
French effort that one proponent explained the "slowness" in
reviving alcohol fuels use. It "is due in part to the poor
results obtained when such fuels were first introduced and also
to the casting of discredit upon such fuels by its adversaries
who profit in the fuel business," said Charles Schweitzer, a
research chemist in the Melle complex.120 Schweitzer also noted
that alcohol was far preferable to leaded gasoline from a public
initiatives were also under way in Britain, Italy and Germany,
and tax incentives were passed in all three nations to encourage
the use of alcohol or alcohol blended fuels.
In England, a
Departmental Committee on Industrial Alcohol reported in 1905
that alcohol from potatoes would be more expensive than
gasoline, even though farmers wanted an alcohol industry built
to absorb crop surpluses. In 1915 "agitation" for an alcohol
industry was noted.122 A Fuel Research Board experimented with
alcohol production between 1917 and 1924, and reported that
while economics of traditional crops were marginal, novel crops
like Jerusalem artichokes might be useful. "The most economical
source [of alcohol] may be found ultimately in some of the
luxuriant tropical growths within the Empire," an article in SAE
Journal said. Even so, it continued attention to power alcohol
was important. "Looking at the fuel question very broadly, the
dominant fact is that almost all the fuel supplies at present
used are what lawyers call wasting securities... As mineral
fuels grow dearer, the advantage of fuels of vegetable origin
must become accentuated."123 By the 1930s, two major blends of
up to 30 percent alcohol -- Cleveland Discoll (part owned by
Standard Oil of New Jersey) and Cities Service -- were widely
used. Discoll continued to be used until the 1970s.
such as I.G. Farben had by the early 1920s come up with a
process for making synthetic methanol from coal, a development
which was widely reported in the popular and technical press.
Observing the synthesis of methanol and other fuels, the editor
of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry said: "We do not predict
that these will necessarily be the fuels to supplement our
diminishing petroleum reserves ... But who shall say? The field
is new and the opportunities are correspondingly great."124 The
German ethyl alcohol monopoly of the pre-World War I (the
Centrale fur Spiritus Verwerthung) had apparently fallen apart
in the post-war chaos, but in September, 1926 a commercial fuel
called "Monopolin" was introduced and "favorably received due to
its anti-knock qualities." 125 The fuel, which included I.G.
Farben's octane-boosting iron carbonyl additive, was endorsed by
a famous race car driver of the era, Herbert Ernst, and alcohol
use in fuel climbed from a quarter million gallons in 1923 to 46
million gallons in 1932. In 1930 gasoline importers were
required to buy from 2.5 to 6 percent alcohol relative to their
gasoline import volumes, but around 1933, I.G. Farben and
several oil companies acquired 51 percent of Monopolin.126
Production of alcohol did not diminish, abut climbed by 1937 to
about 52 million gallons per year as part of Hitler's war
In Italy, the
first Congress of Industrial Chemistry which took place in April
1924 focused strongly on fuel problems, with a large percentage
of the papers concerned with alcohol fuels. 128 A strong
scientific endorsement of the idea of using surplus crops in the
national fuel mix led to a national decree on mandatory use of
alcohol fuels in 1925. Several oil companies initially refused
to blend alcohol with gasoline, but government pressures
prevailed. By the late 1920s blends included Benzalcool (20%
ethanol and 10% benzine) and Robur (30% ethanol, 22% methanol,
40% gasoline and other additives). Other nations, such as
Hungary, Poland, and Brazil would follow the French and Italian
examples with mandatory alcohol and gasoline blends in national
fuels in the 1920s and 30s, while the tax incentive approach was
adopted by many other European nations such as Switzerland,
Sweden, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
The total use
of alcohol as a substitute fuel in Europe may have never
exceeded five percent, according to the American Petroleum
Institute. Synthetic gasoline and benzene created by I.G. Farben
from coal substituted for seven percent and 6.5 percent
respectively of European petroleum by 1937. Synthetic gasoline
was cheaper (at 17 to 19 cents per gallon) than alcohol at
around 25 cents per gallon, API said. 129
nations where sugarcane was abundant and petroleum sources
distant, blends and straight alcohol fuels were common. A
tractor operator for American Sugar Co. in Cuba in the 1921-24
period recalled using cheap molasses derived alcohol by the
barrel at a time when gasoline was expensive to import. The
practice was to start the tractors with gasoline (which cost 40
to 50 cents per gallon) and then run them on alcohol (at 5 cents
per gallon) for the rest of the day. When the tractors were to
be idled over a weekend or between harvests, a little gasoline
was injected into the cylinders to minimize corrosion.130 In
1931 the Brazilian government followed the French example and
required alcohol mixtures in five percent of imported oil;
blending continued sporadically through the 1950s. When the oil
price shocks hit Brazil in the 1970s, the relatively recent
technological expertise with alcohol fuel blends was a factor in
that nation's adoption of an extensive alcohol fuels program.131
Alcohol use in
fuel dropped by 25 percent in 1937 as Europe shifted gears and
prepared for war. Crop failures in 1938 and 1939 eliminated
surpluses and, temporarily, the need for an alcohol fuels
program for farmers. With the outbreak of World War II,
virtually all industrial alcohol production shifted to
ammunition, and crop surpluses disappeared for a decade.
Commercial Alcohol Fuels Programs
fuel was adopted in isolated instances in America during the
1920s and early 1930s. One World War I era American blend was
"Alcogas." Little is known about it, although a photo of a
service station at an unknown location survives 132 and
references to Alcogas are found in the technical literature.133
Another 1920s blend was made from potatoes. The alcohol was
distilled in Spokane and the blended fuel, called "Vegaline,"
was widely sold in Idaho and Washington state. "There was no
apparent difference in the operation of the vehicle whether it
was fueled by the Standard Oil pump or the Vegaline pump," said
Ralph Curtis, a Washington resident. Curtis' great-grandfather
was an enthusiastic investor in Vegaline. "He would tell us that
by adding this alcohol to gasoline that the farmers of our area
would benefit. His theory was that production of the alcohol
would not be limited to cull potatoes but [could include] other
unmarketable fruits and vegetables." The Vegaline plant was
caught up in the great depression of 1929 and closed its
formative experience for the oil industry was Standard Oil's
attempt to market a 10 percent alcohol blend in Baltimore for a
few months in 1923. At the time, industrial alcohol from
molasses was selling for less than 20 cents per gallon, while
retail gasoline prices had reached an all-time high of 28 cents
per gallon. But "difficulties" stopped the experiment, according
to a cryptic 1933 internal memo of the American Petroleum
Institute's "Special Technical Committee" on alcohol fuels. The
memo did not refer to Standard itself, but said that a major
company had experienced the difficulties. A 1939 publication
would later identify Standard as the company in question. All
that is known about the difficulties is that they were "largely
were of a marketing and car operating nature and resulted from
the instability of the alcohol-gasoline in the presence of
water."135 Standard apparently did not clean out its fuel
storage tanks and viewed the resulting "problem" as a difficulty
inherent in using the fuel rather than in the fuel handling
system. Standard did not document the experiment or publicize
its results. No reference to it is found in the Baltimore Sun
during this period. However, the American Petroleum Institute
used this single incident as a technical justification for
opposition to alcohol blended fuels in the 1930s.
Vegaline and other sporadic attempts to market an alcohol
blended fuel never caught on in the 1920s, due to primarily to
economic disadvantages but also to Prohibition and opposition by
the oil industry. 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, and
indeed, alcohol fuel turned out to be the most controversial of
these proposals. The battle between U.S. farmers and the oil
industry in the 1930s over alcohol fuel has been reviewed by
Giebelhaus136 and Bernton137 but aspects of this tumultuous
debate has yet to be fully explored.
scientists, businessmen and farmers believed that to make their
own fuel 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.
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," Hixon said. The Ames chemists worked with local
gasoline retailers to put a 10 percent 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.138 Some 200,000 gallons of Agricultural Blended
Motor Fuel were eventually sold in an Iowa campaign in the early
efforts, not as well backed up with research and documentation,
broke out all over the Midwest. In Lincoln, Nebraska, the
University of Nebraska and 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.140 In Yankton, South Dakota,
Gurney Oil Co. marketed 200,000 gallons of blended fuel.141
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.142
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 Prarie 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 Agro, an ethyl alcohol blend with gasoline. Two
types were available -- Agro 5, with five to seven percent
alcohol, and Agro 10, with twelve and a half to 17 and a half
percent alcohol. "Try a tank full -- you'll be thankful," the
Agro brochures said. The blend was sold to high initial
enthusiasm at 2,000 service stations. However, Agro plant
managers complained of sabotage and bitter infighting by the oil
industry,143 and market prices were also a major influence.
Although Agro 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. Agro is
in the last pump -- for those who want it."
By 1939, the
Atchison Agro 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. As war broke out two years
later, California assembly considered a motion to create an
auxiliary fuel from surplus fruits and vegetables. President
Franklin Roosevelt wrote the speaker of the assembly and said:
"While it is
true that a number of foreign countries process agricultural
materials for the production of alcohol as a motor fuel, it is
equally true that the motor fuel economy of countries
possessing no petroleum resources is very different from such
economy in the United States. It has never been established in
this country that the conversion of agricultural products into
motor fuel is economically feasible or necessary for national
defense. On the other hand, it has been recognized for a long
time that a real need exists in this country for the
development of all the information possible on this very
contentious subject..." 144
intense political feud with the Republican forces who backed
chemurgy, and especially with Sen. Guy Gillette over the Supreme
Court issue in the late 1930s, would have led him to oppose
virtually anything that the Midwestern Republicans advanced, but
Roosevelt's judgment was premature. Several months later, as war
industry plans were accelerated, the need for alcohol became
apparent. Within two years, chemists and agricultural engineers
from Midwestern universities who had tried their alcohol
production ideas at the Agro 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.145 The Agro experience had clearly helped pave the
way for this war effort, in terms of providing trained
personnel, novel techniques and a history of mistakes to avoid.
The resilience and flexibility of agricultural systems was well
demonstrated, the chemists believed, because petroleum based
synthetic rubber technologies owned by Standard and the German
chemical company I.G. Farben had faltered at the critical
moment. Without the previous experience in alcohol fuels
production in the 1930s, the war effort might have been
experiences and the mass production of alcohol for war
industries were also recalled in the 1970s, when the
conventional wisdom recognized only coal and nuclear power as
alternatives to embargoed Middle Eastern oil.147 In contrast, 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: 148
"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
Opposition to Ethyl Alcohol Fuel
The onset of
interest in alcohol fuel in 1933 caught the oil industry off
guard, but once alarmed, it reacted swiftly. The American
Petroleum Institute urged formation of state level "emergency
committees" in the spring of 1933 to oppose proposals for tax
incentives. In a set of memos sent under a red cover marked
"IMPORTANT," API introduced a "coordinated program to be
connected throughout the industry" to combat alcohol gasoline
blending. The memo explained the threat: compulsory blend of
alcohol and gasoline, as was used in France, Italy and Germany
in the 1920s and early 30s, "will harm the petroleum industry
and the automobile industry as well as state and national
treasuries by reducing [oil] consumption," the memo said. The
only ones to benefit would be distillers, railroads (which would
transport the alcohol) and bootleggers "to whom would be opened
brand new fields of fraud." 149
was waged across many states, especially the Midwest, in the
spring of 1933, and at the federal level for most of the
1930s.150 Technical experts in the oil industry claimed that
alcohol fuel blends "are definitely inferior to gasoline alone
from every angle of motor performance."151 Editorials by Lowell
Thomas and other radio announcers paid for by oil industry
sponsors claimed that alcohol fuel would make "speakeasys" out
of gasoline stations because bootleggers could easily separate
out the gasoline and sell the alcohol. Thomas said: "The
automobile manufacturer resents it [alcohol ] because it
interferes with the horsepower of the motorists car, requires
extensive carburetor changes and presents other difficulties..."
(In fact, this might be true of pure alcohol but not alcohol
blends with gasoline). Thomas' radio address was recorded in a
cable sent from Sun Oil Co.'s J.Howard Pew to H.D. Collier,
president of Standard Oil Co. of California, on April 26, 1933.
"Confirming telephone conversation reference alcohol blend our
radio announcement was as follows quote..." When an apparently
large number of critical telegrams poured in, Sun took pains to
distance Thomas from "our radio announcement," even writing a
"suggested reply to Congressman Dirksen" in which Thomas was to
say "This is news and not propaganda, which I myself nor my
sponsors would for a moment tolerate over the air." The
suggested reply was unsigned but written on stationary clearly
showing the Sunoco watermark.152 It was not clear whether Thomas
actually sent the suggested reply.
involved private investigations of politicians and businessmen
who supported alcohol blends. Sun Oil Co. investigated the
private lives of the directors of Keystone Steel and Wire Co.
and others.153 Then-Congressman Everett Dirksen, who supported
Keystone, wrote constituents that he was being investigated by
unknown people. "Here you have the proof of how the insidious
oil lobby works in order to defeat any measure or any individual
who opposes their interests," Dirksen said.154
Standard Oil of Indiana and the Ethyl Corp. exchanged worried
letters about the outbreak of interest in alcohol blends in the
winter of 1933. Standard's chief lawyer wrote Ethyl president
Earle Webb: "Much publicity has gone through the state to the
effect that alcohol mixed with gasoline makes a motor fuel high
in anti-knock rating and the move has been to require gasoline
to contain a high percentage of alcohol (manufactured locally,
of course) or pay a high state tax. Manifestly this would
materially interfere with the use of Ethyl in Iowa... Let me
know what you are doing or intend to do, and to what extent we
can cooperate."155 Webb wrote back: "I entirely agree that
proposed legislation of this character is apt to have a serious
termination and that almost anything may happen where there is
so much discontent. We would very much appreciate being kept
informed as to developments."156 By April, 1933, Standard was
apparently worried about anti-trust laws, and wired Ethyl:
"Believe absolutely necessary Ethyl Gasoline Corp. avoid any
public opposition or any such direct action."157
Also in the
1930s, as Ethyl's marketing power grew, the company began to
enforce what it considered to be "business ethics" on the
market. Ethyl refused to grant dealer contracts to certain
gasoline wholesalers, and often provided no formal explanation
for their actions. The exclusion of "unethical" businessmen was
especially aimed at those who cut prices, but it was a means of
excluding from the entire fuel market any wholesaler who adopted
practices which the oil industry disliked. Since wholesalers had
to carry a wide range of products to survive, and since
advertising had created enormous consumer demand for Ethyl, to
be denied an Ethyl contract was in effect to be forced out of
business. Most wholesalers could not or would not tell the
Federal Bureau of Investigation why Ethyl would consider them
unethical, but at least one wholesaler, the Earl Coryell company
of Lincoln, Nebraska, blended ethyl alcohol about the same time
that it could not get an Ethyl license.158 Pressure to stick
with Ethyl leaded gasoline exclusively rather than try alcohol
fuel blends would have been quite strong with this enforcement
mechanism at the oil industry's disposal, but it is difficult to
estimate how many gasoline dealers wanted to use alcohol instead
of lead. In 1940 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an anti-trust
verdict against Ethyl, 159 but by then, the Midwestern alcohol
fuel movement had disintegrated.
tactics used by the oil industry involved more than simple
marketplace competition and public relations in response to the
prospect of legislative controls. Yet economic issues and
assumptions are at the heart of the dispute and deserve careful
has never been economically attractive as a straight gallon for
gallon substitute for gasoline. When alcohol fuel returned to
the American market in 1907 at a retail price of 32 cents per
gallon, it was competing with gasoline at 18 to 22 cents per
gallon. This roughly one-third advantage has been the rule for
most of the 20th century in the U.S. In 1933, grain alcohol cost
25 cents per gallon wholesale as opposed to gasoline at 10 to 13
cents per gallon wholesale. Despite attempts to make alcohol
from cheaper materials (such as wood waste and cellulose), the
cost differential has been the most serious obstacle to the
widespread use of alcohol fuel and, according to some
historians, the primary focus of most oil industry resistance to
researchers have noted that the value of alcohol as a fuel
depends on whether it is considered a gasoline substitute or an
octane enhancer. "If refiners turn to using alcohols as octane
enhancers as lead phasedown occurs, there may be sufficient
demand to warrant the capital outlay required for production
facilities, in which case the market value of alcohol fuels
would become much greater," according to the Canadian Energy
Boyd and Thomas Midgley of Ethyl found ethyl alcohol to be a
good anti-knock additive in 1922, it was not until 1933 that
studies at Iowa State University publicly quantified the quality
and economic comparisons between ethyl alcohol and Ethyl lead.
Hixon and others concluded that it took 15 percent alcohol to
create the octane boost of 3 grams of lead, as seen in the table
below. Since Ethyl lead sold at a 3 cent premium over regular
gasoline, the question was whether ethyl alcohol blends, with
the same anti-knock / octane advantage, should not be sold at
the same premium price. Proponents of alcohol blended fuels
insisted that this -- and not the "extender" use of alcohol --
was the proper basis of comparison.
How Agriculture Compared
Ethyl leaded gasoline and ethyl alcohol
||Wholesale Price *
|Base fuel plus 3 grams
|Base fuel plus 10 % ethyl
|Base fuel plus 20 % ethyl
price; assumes 25 cents per gallon for ethyl alcohol and 10
cents per gallon for gasoline purchased from jobber in Midwest.
substitution of base fuel with 10 percent ethyl alcohol means 9
cents worth of gasoline added to 2.5 cents worth of alcohol.
Substitution of 20 percent ethyl alcohol is 8 cents gasoline + 5
cents alcohol = 13.
Also note: Iowa
State included a half-cent per gallon blending charge for the
two alcohol blended fuels. Data from: Iowa State College, The
Use of Alcohol In Motor Fuels, Progress Report Number III, Divs.
of Industrial Science, Engineering, Agriculture; Jan. 20, 1933.
Also: Rayburn D. Tousley, "The Economics of Industrial Alcohol,"
Washington State Univ., 1945.
industry did not use the same economic yardsticks in comparing
the costs of alcohol fuel blends, although they did incorporate
the same half cent per gallon blending charge used by the Iowa
State researchers. According to one pamphlet, alcohol cost five
to ten times more than gasoline, depending on the price of corn,
and had technical problems. "Seeing that alcohol fuels cannot
compete with gasoline on a price or quality basis ... huge sums
of money [are] now being spent on a nationwide propaganda
campaign to convince the American people that alcohol gasoline
would bring permanent prosperity to farmers." The "Alky-Gas"
scheme "robs Peter to pay Paul," that is, it takes money from
motorists to pay for farm relief. It would be cheaper just to
pay farmers to burn their corn.162
How the Oil Industry Saw
Alcohol Fuel Economics
|Total cost gasoline one
|Base gasoline 9/10 gal
|Ethyl alcohol 1/10 gal (at
|Total cost 10 %
prices before taxes. Source "Who would Pay for Corn Alcohol?"
Iowa Petroleum Commission pamphlet, 1935, American Petroleum
Institute library, Washington, D.C.
most extreme example of the oil industry's argument is
illustrated by a letter from Joseph Pew of Sun Oil Co. to an
alcohol fuels proponent. Pew said that alcohol had 60 percent
the BTU value of gasoline, and it would only be worth 60 percent
of the value of gasoline. To a refinery, gasoline was worth only
6 cents per gallon. Thus, alcohol would have to cost only 3.6
cents per gallon to compete with gasoline, and even then there
would still be the expense of having it transported to the
refinery. "I figure it isn't worth more than a cent" per gallon,
in these economic assumptions demonstrate that the debate over
alcohol fuel that broke out in the Midwest in the 1930s depended
greatly on the viewpoint of the company or individual. In
essence, political conditions shaped the marketplace and the new
competition faced a difficult economic playing field heavily
tilted toward established industries.
as anti-knock blending agents were well known long before
tetraethyl lead was discovered in 1921, and their technical
qualities had been well characterized by scientists in the US
and in Europe by 1925. The experience in other nations with
alcohol blended fuels was usually (although not universally)
quite positive. Practical techniques were well known to overcome
most problems with alcohol as a pure fuel or in blends with
gasoline. Fuel blends were economically successful in countries
where oil was more expensive or where independence in fuel
supply was seen as a political or strategic problem.
advocacy among American farmers was present in the 1906 - 1908
period and again in the 1930s. Scientists and engineers in the
U.S. and Europe ranged from neutral to enthusiastic about the
clean burning, high compression characteristics of alcohol fuel,
yet the U.S. oil industry claimed it was technically inferior.
Charles Kettering and his General Motors researchers were
particularly interested in alcohol from cellulose in the 1919 -
1925 time frame, and saw Ethyl leaded gasoline as paving the way
for the "fuel of the future" by providing a temporary octane
boost and allowing engine compression ratios to increase. In
1924, however, G.M. allied itself with Standard Oil, creating
the Ethyl Corp. Shortly afterwards, G.M. researchers
contradicted years of their own research and hundreds of other
studies by claiming that only tetra ethyl lead could produce
If there is an
historical lesson to learn from the "fuel of the future," it is
that technology is often political. In this case, fuel
technology developed in a direction that was a matter of policy
choice and not predetermined by any clear advantage of one
technology over another. For different reasons, Henry Ford and
Charles Kettering both saw the fuel of the future as a blend of
ethyl alcohol and gasoline leading to pure alcohol from
cellulose. A dedicated agrarian, Ford thought new markets for
fuel feedstocks would help create a rural renaissance. On the
other hand, Kettering, as a scientist, was worried about the
long term problem of the automotive industry's need for oil, a
resource with rapidly declining domestic reserves. Clearly, the
shortage of domestic oil that was feared in the 1920s has
occurred in the late 20th century, although it has hardly been
noticed because of the abundance of foreign oil. Whether the oil
substitute envisioned by the scientists and agrarians of the
first half of the century would be appropriate in the latter
half remains an open question.
"Many years may
be necessary before the actual development of such a [fuel]
substitute," Kettering concluded. There was always the
possibility, according to Kettering's friend Charles Stewart
Mott, "that if a time ever came when the sources of [fossil]
heat and energy were ever used up ... that there would always be
available the capturing of... energy from the sun... through
agricultural products ..."164
Predicts Fuel from Vegetation," New York Times, Sept. 20, 1925,
Millard Wik, "Henry Ford's Science and Technology for Rural
America," Technology and Culture, Summer 1963; also see "Ford
Predicts Fuel from Vegetation," New York Times, Sept. 20, 1925,
3 Augustus W.
Giebelhaus, "Resistance to Long-Term Energy Transition: The Case
of Power Alcohol in the 1930s," paper to the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, Jan. 4, 1979.
4 Hal Bernton,
Bill Kovarik, Scott Sklar, The Forbidden Fuel: Power Alcohol in
the 20th Century (New York: Griffin, 1982).
5 Bill Kovarik,
Fuel Alcohol: Energy and Environment in a Hungry World, (London:
International Institute for Environment and Development, 1982).
Also, "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.
6 Francis P.
Garvan, "Scientific Method of Thought in Our National Problems,"
Proceedings of the Second Dearborn Conference on Agriculture,
Industry and Science (New York: The Chemical Foundation, 1936),
Staudenmier, Technology's Storytellers (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1988), p. 175.
8 Congress des
Applications de L'Alcool Denature, 16 au 23 Dec., 1902,
Automobile-Club de France, National Agricultural Library
collection, Beltsville, Md. Ironically, it was in this same
Paris exhibition hall in 1900 that American writer Henry Adams
found dark inspiration for his book "the Virgin and the Dynamo,"
in which he described the end of religious faith.and the dawn of
powerful yet somehow profane technology. Adams dark vision might
have been lightened had he attended the 1902 Paris exposition.
Not only was the scale of machinery far less imposing, being
made up of small horseless carriage engines and household items
like alcohol-powered irons and stoves, but the symbolism of the
exposition had a far different flavor.
Geographic, Vol. 31, Feb. 1917, p. 131.
Borth, Chemists and Their Work (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1938).
Midgely, "Our Liquid Fuel Reserves," Soceity of Automotive
Engineers, Oct. 13, 1921; CF Kettering, "The Fuel Problem,"
draft address, unprocessed papers, Thomas Midgely drawer, GMI
Alumni Foundation Collection of Industrial History, Flint, Mich
(cited as GMI).
Basalla, The Evolution of Technology, (Cambridge University
Press, 1988) p. 197.
13 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
database 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
references from the 1900 - 1925 period.
Yergin, The Prize, (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1991), p. 14, also p.
15 Henry R.
Luce exhibit on American Journalism, Smithsonian Museum of
American History, Washington DC. 1970 - 1990.
16 Sam H.
Schurr and Bruce C. Netschert, Energy in the American Economy
1850 - 1975; An Economic Study of its History and Prospects
(Baltimore, Resources for the Future, Johns Hopkins Press:
"Gasoline to Burn," Ethyl News, March, 1943, p. 20.
18 Robert N.
Tweedy, Industrial Alcohol (Dublin, Ireland: Plunkett House,
19 Index of
patents issued from 1790 to 1873, Inclusive, (Washington, D.C.:
US Patent Office). Listed as "patent for alcohol for burning
fluid, carbureted," March 17, 1834.
Cummins, Internal Fire (Warrenton, Pa.: Society of Automotive
Engineers, 1989), p. 81. Also, Horst Hardenberg, Samuel Morey
and his Atmospheric Engine (Warrendale, Pa.: Society of
Automotive Engineers, Feb. 1992), SP922; also Katharine Goodwin
and Charles E. Duryea, Captain Samuel Morey: The Edison of His
Day (White River Junction, Vermont: The Vermonter Press, 1931);
also Gabriel Farell Jr., Capt. Samuel Morey who built a
Steamboat Fourteen Years Before Fulton, (Manchester, NH:
Standard Book Co., 1915). Ray Zirblis, "Was Samuel Morey
Robbed?" Vermont Life, Autumn, 1994, p. 53.
21 History of
Light, pamphlet by the Welsbach Gas Co., Philadelphia Penn,
1909; on file in the Smithsonian collection of Advertising,
Museum of American History, Washington, D.C.
22 Free Alcohol
Law, Senate Finance Committee Hearings on HR 24816, Feb. 1907,
Doc. No. 362, page 320. The authority cited is the Civil War era
Special Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, David A.
Wells, and the apparent reference is to the New York regional
market. It is possible that over a hundred million gallons per
year of camphene were sold by the late 1850s. The city of
Cincinnati alone reportedly used 10 million gallons in 1860.
Note that kerosene sales in 1870 reached 200 million gallons.
23 Harold F.
Williamson & Arnold R. Daum, The American Petroleum Industry,
1859-1899, The Age of Illumination (Evanston Ill NW U Press,
24 Rufus Frost
Herrick, Denatured or Industrial Alcohol, (New York: John Wiley
& Sons, 1907), p. 16.
25 Free alcohol
hearings, U.S. Senate 1907, p. 320. Also, Free Alcohol Hearings,
House Ways & Means Committee, 59th Congress, Feb.-Mar. 1906. It
is interesting that Wells' contemporary account places the
discovery of petroleum after the cessation of alcohol fuel use.
Note also that most turpentine came from the U.S. South at this
26 John K.
Brachvogel, Industrial Alcohol: Its Manufacture and Use, (New
York: Munn & Co., 1907) p. 13.
27 "How Long
the Oil Will Last," Scientific American, May 3, 1919, p. 459.
28 Robert N.
Tweedy, Industrial Alcohol .
search of records at the U.S. Patent Office, Crystal City,
Cummins, Internal Fire (Warrendale, Pa.: Society of Automotive
31 Ibid., p.
81. See above for additional references.
32 Ibid., p.
135. The patent was not granted "because of cited prior art."
Apparently the idea was a commonplace. American burning fluid
lamp manufacturers described the carburetion process in
brochures in the 1850s.
33 Ibid., p.
Industrial Alcohol, p. 353; also G.W. Monier-Williams, Power
Alcohol:Its Production and Utilization (London: Oxford Technical
Publications, 1922, p. 275.
Automobiles at the Paris Alcohol Exhibition," Scientific
American, Dec. 28, 1901. Note that gasoline powered automotive
races had begun five years earlier with the Paris-Rouen race of
36 "Alcohol as
a fuel for motor carriages," Scientific American, June 1, 1901,
37 Robert N.
Tweedy, Industrial Alcohol .
38 Congress des
Applications de L'Alcool Denature, 16 au 23 Dec., 1902,
Automobile-Club de France, National Agricultural Library
collection, Beltsville, Md.
39 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).
40 Rufus Frost
Herrick, Denatured or Industrial Alcohol, (New York: John Wiley
& Sons, 1907), p. 9. Also see Brachvogel p. 405.
Exhibition of Alcohol Consuming Devices," Scientific American,
Nov. 16, 1901
42 Rufus Frost
Herrick, Denatured or Industrial Alcohol, (New York: John Wiley
& Sons, 1907), p. 307.
Industrial Alcohol, p. 13.
of a Great Industry: The Making of Cheap Alcohol," New York
Times, Nov. 25, 1906, Section III p. 3.
45 Statement of
Leonard B. Goebbels, Otto Gas Engine Works, Senate Finance
Committee hearings on HR 24816, Feb. 1907.
Alcohol Distilleries," New York Times, Sept. 13, 1906. The
source of the statistic is U.S. Consul General Thackara in
48 Col. Sir
Frederic Nathan, "Alcohol for Power Purposes," The Transactions
of the World Power Congress, London, Sept. 24 - Oct. 6, 1928.
Tweedy, Industrial Alcohol.
Industrial Alcohol. Tweedy did not directly quote Roosevelt but
the phrasing is suggestive of Roosevelt's tone.
51 "Auto Club
Aroused over Alcohol Bill," New York Times, April 26, 1906.
52 Free Alcohol
Hearings, House Ways & Means Committee, p. 113.
53 "Tax Free
Alcohol," New York Times, May 22, 1906.
testimony to Senate Finance Committee.
Cheap Illuminant," New York Times, May 25, 1906.
56 "Future of
Alcohol in the Industries," New York Times Aug. 5, 1906.
Neglect Making of Alcohol,"New York Times, Dec. 23, 1907; note
that the USDA's 1907 report said alcohol prices were 15 cents
per gallon in Germany, while benzene was 16 cents per gallon and
gasoline 32 cents per gallon).
of Farm Crops," Hearings of a Subcommittee of the Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry, United States Senate, S. Res. 224,
(1942), Part I, p. 286.
61 Gasoline and
alcohol do not readily mix unless the alcohol is nearly free of
water ("anhydrous" or 99.4% pure), or unless a blending agent or
"binder" is used, such as benzene or a higher alcohol (butanol,
propanol, etc.). Otherwise, alcohol tends to separate from
gasoline at lower temperatures, a problem known as "phase
separation." Ordinary distillation only achieves 95 percent
purity because of a final chemical bond between the remaining
water and alcohol known as the azeotrope. The final azeotropic
processing tends to be somewhat complex and expensive.
62 "Future of
Alcohol in the Industries," New York Times Aug. 5, 1906. Note
that in publications as recent as 1990, fuel tanks of double the
volume are supposed to be needed for pure alcohol vehicles
because of this smaller BTU value.
63 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).
64 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:
65 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). Strangely, some
75 to 80 years later, many technical editors still believed that
a critical problem with alcohol fuel was that lower BTU
necessitated double-sized fuel tanks.
66 A. E.
Davidson, Proc. Inst. Automobile Engineers, 1913-14, p. 98,
cited in G.W. Monier-Williams, Power Alcohol: Its Production and
Utilization, Oxford Technical publications, 1922, cited
hereafter as Monier-Williams.
Ormandy, Proc. Inst. Automobile Engineers, 1913-14, p. 49, cited
68 W. Watson,
Proc. Inst. Automobile Engineers, 1913-14, p. 73, cited in
American, April 13, 1918, p. 339; also July 6, 1918.
American, Dec. 11, 1920 p. 593.
Ormandy, "The Motor Fuel Problem," Journal of the Institute of
Petroleum Technologists, Vol. 5, 1919, p. 33-66.
Boverton, et al, "The Production of Alcohol for Power," Chemical
Age, 1919, cited in Chemical Abstracts, 13:2271
73 H.B. Dixon,
"Researches on Alcohol as an Engine Fuel," SAE Journal, Dec.
1920, p. 521.
Tunnison, Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, 1921, p. 370.
75 G.J. Shave,
Imperial Motor Transport Conference, Oct. 18-21, 1920, cited in
76 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, PHS Bulletin
No. 158, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Treasury Dept., August 1925).
77 G.J. Shave,
"Fuel Mixtures on London Omnibuses," SAE Journal, Dec. 1920, p.
78 Donath and
Groger, Die Treibmittel der Kraftfahrzeuge, Berlin 1917, cited
"The Influence of Various Fuels on Engine Performance,"
Automobile Engineer, Feb., 1921.
Freeland and W.G. Harry, "Alcohol Motor Fuel from Molasses,"
Part II, Industrial and Chemical Engineering News, July 1925, p.
717; also see Part I in the June issue. Its interesting to note
that General Motors considered cold starting to be a serious
problem in a 1979 technical paper which did not consider
additives as a solution.
Hubendick, "Use of Alcohol Motor Fuels in Sweden," Petroleum
Zeitschr. 26, No. 12, 3-9, 1930, cited in Hixon, "R.M. Hixon,
L.M. Christensen, W.F. Coover in "The Use of Alcohol in Motor
Fuels: Progress Report Number VI," May 1, 1933, unpublished
manuscript, Iowa State University archives, Ames, Iowa.
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.
83 Victor H.
Scales, Publicity Director, American Petroleum Industries
Committee, "Economic Aspects of Alcohol-Gasoline Blends," API,
May 1, 1933; Also "A Reply to The Deserted Village, No. 6 of the
Chemical Foundation," American Petroleum Industries Committee,
1935; "Who would Pay for Corn Alcohol?, " Iowa Petroleum
Industries Committee, Des Moines, Iowa, 1933.
Reynolds, "The Alcohol Gasoline Proposal," American Petroleum
Institute Proceedings, 20th Annual meeting, Nov. 9, 1939.
Pleeth, Alcohol: A Fuel for Internal Combustion Engines (London:
Chapman & Hall, 1949) .
86 Rufus Frost
Herrick, Denatured or Industrial Alcohol, (New York: John Wiley
& Sons, 1907), p. 299.
Scarratt, "The Carburetion of Alcohol," SAE Journal, April 1921.
88 Joseph C.
Robert, Ethyl: A History of the Corporation and the People Who
Made It (Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia,
1983); Also Stuart Leslie, Boss Kettering (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1983);T.A. Boyd, Professional Amateur (New
York: E.P. Dutton, 1957); Rosamond Young, Boss Ket (New York:
Longmans, Green & Co., 1961); Graham Edgar, "Tetraethyl Lead,"
paper to the American Chemical Society, New York, Sept. 3-7,
1951, reproduced by the Ethyl Corp.; T.A. Boyd, "Pathfinding in
Fuels and Engines," Society of Automotive Engineers
Transactions, (April 1950), pp. 182-183; and Stanton P.
Nickerson, "Tetraethyl Lead: A Product of American Research,"
Journal of Chemical Education 31, (November 1954), p. 567.
89 "A Report of
Fuel Research by the Research Division of the Dayton Metal
Products Co. and the U.S. Bureau of Mines," July 27,1918,
Midgley unprocessed files, GMI.
90 "Alcogas as
Aviation Fuel Compared with Export Grade Gasoline," SAE Journal,
June 1920, p.397.
91 Charles F.
Kettering, "Studying the Knocks,: How a Closer Knowledge of What
Goes on In the Cylinder Might Solve the Problems of Fuel
Supply," Scientific American, Oct. 11, 1919, p. 364.
92 Leslie, Boss
Kettering , p. 155. Ethyl alcohol was "income" rather than
"capital" because it could be produced from renewable resources.
93 Boyd, Early
History p. 54.
production of benzene was questionable. Even if all the coal
mined in the U.S. in 1920 were used to supply benzene, only
about 900 million gallons, or one-fifth of the U.S. gasoline
supply would be replaced, he said.
95 T.A. Boyd,
"Motor Fuel From Vegetation," Journal of Industrial and Chemical
Engineering 13, No. 9 (Sept. 1921), pp. 836 - 841.
Kettering, "The Fuel Problem," undated, probably 1921, Kettering
collection unprocessed, GMI.
97 This is
probably a good point to note that a good many original
documents are missing from public General Motors archives. These
include: "The Lead Diary," a collection of several thousand
original documents from which T.A. Boyd and Charles Kettering
refreshed their memories as their memoirs were written in the
1940s; Test diaries and day-to-day records of experiments
conducted during 1920 - 22 period when tetraethyl lead was
discovered by G.M. researchers in Dayton, Ohio.; Minutes of the
Board of Directors of the Ethyl Corp 1924 to 1940; Minutes of
the "Medical Committee" of du Pont, G.M. and Standard, 1924 to
1925. Reports of the Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey experiment
with alcohol fuel blends in Baltimore, Md. in 1923 and
(possibly) correspondence with G.M. researchers about the
experiment; Reports on the use of the century plant in Mexico to
produce alcohol at 7 cents per gallon, cited in 1922 memo from
Midgley to Kettering; and records or memos relating to "Synthol"
experiments, Dayton G.M. labs, summer 1925.
98 Leslie, Boss
Kettering, p. 156.
to Kettering, Feb. 27, 1920; Kettering to Zimmerschied, March 3,
1920, Kettering collection, GMI. Note that carburetors had been
built with lacquered cork floats before this time, which was not
a problem with gasoline. However, alcohol was a solvent for the
lacquer. Therefore, GM switched to metal carburetor floats to
accommodate the new international fuel blends.
Serial No. 362,139, Patent No. 1578201, issued Mar. 23, 1926.
The patent covers blending alcohol and unsaturated hydrocarbons,
particularly olefins formed during the cracking process.
Hibbert, "The Role of the Chemist in Relation to the Future
Supply of Liquid Fuel," Journal of Industrial and Chemical
Engineering 13, No. 9 (Sept. 1921) p. 841.
102 Boyd to
Midgley, July 8, 1920, Midgley unprocessed files, GMI.
103 This is an
important point in technical discussions. Many who object to
alcohol fuel, ostensibly on technical grounds, will omit any
mention of the possibility of a "binder," which is a small
amount of a higher alcohol or other compound that prevents
"phase separation" of gasoline from alcohol in the presence of
water. The American Petroleum Institute's discussions concerning
the technical problems of alcohol blends in the early 1930s, for
example, did not mention such binders. .
Discussion" transcript of SAE meeting discussion, Indianapolis,
Oct. 1921. Midgley unprocessed files, GMI.
Midgley, "Discussion of papers at semi-annual meeting," SAE
Journal, Oct. 1921, p. 269.
106 Midgley to
Kettering, May 23, 1922, Factory Correspondence, Midgley
unprocessed files, GMI.
107 Thomas A.
Midgley and T.A. Boyd, "Detonation Characteristics of Some
Blended Motor Fuels," SAE Journal, June 1922, page 451. Note:
italics indicate a section used at the oral presentation at a
June 1922 SAE meeting but not published in the SAE paper; oral
presentation from Midgley unprocessed files, GMI.
Midgley and Thomas Boyd, "The Application of Chemistry to the
Conservation of Motor Fuels," Industrial and Engineering
Chemistry, Sept. 1922, p. 850.
109 N. P.
Wescott, Origins and Early History of the Tetraethyl Lead
Business, June 9, 1936, Du Pont Corp. Report No. D-1013,
Longwood ms group 10, Series A, 418-426, GM Anti-Trust Suit,
Hagley Museum & Library, Wilmington, Del., p. 4.
Derivative $5,000,000 an ounce / Ethyl Gasoline Defended," New
York Times, April 7, 1925, p. 23; Also, Thomas Midgley, Jr.,
"Tetraethyl Lead Poison Hazards," Industrial and Engineering
Chemistry, Vol. 17, No. 8 August, 1925, p. 827.
111 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, PHS Bulletin
No. 158, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Treasury Dept., August 1925),
p. 6. (Hereafter cited as PHS Conference). Of course, Kettering
originally planned to get alcohols from outside the paraffin
series through grain and cellulose.
112 "U.S. Board
Asks Scientists to Find New 'Doped Gas,'" New York World, May
22, 1925, p. 1.
113 "Work on
New Type of Auto and Fuel," New York Times, Aug. 7, 1925; also
"New Auto, Fuel to Save Costs are Announced," United Press, Aug.
Trade Commission Docket No. 2825, Cushing Refining & Gasoline
Co., June 19, 1936, Dept. of Justice files, 60-57-107, National
Archives, Washington, D.C.
115 Homer S.
Fox, "Alcohol Motor Fuels," Supplementary Report to World Trade
in Gasoline, Minerals Division, Bureau of Domestic & Foreign
Commerce, Trade Promotion Series Monograph No. 20 (Washington,
D.C.: Dept. of Commerce, May 15, 1925). The report provided
detailed statistics on trade volume, duties, tax incentives and
laws surrounding the use of alcohol blended fuels, including
ethanol and methanol, in France, Germany, England, Italy and 15
other countries were it was routinely used.
116 R.B. Gray,
"On the Use of Alcohol-Gasoline Mixtures as Motor Fuels,"
unpublished, USDA, April 1933, National Agricultural Library,
117 World Trade
in Gasoline, Bureau of Domestic & Foreign Commerce, US Dept. of
Commerce monograph, Trade Promotion Series No. 20, May 15, 1925.
118 "Seaweed as
a Source of Alcohol," Scientific American, Nov. 9, 1918, p. 371.
A simple acid hydrolysis technique yielded only about 10 gallons
French Motorists Say about Alcohol-Gasoline Motor Fuel Blends,"
Washington, D.C.: American Motorists Association, Dec. 15, 1933.
The association reprinted letters to the magazine of the French
National Federation of Automobile, Bicycle, Aeronautical and
Related Trades. In a decidedly non-random poll, the majority of
40 letter writers disapproved of the inconveniences of alcohol
blends, primarily citing problems with cork floats in
carburetors and hesitation and stalling with high volume alcohol
blends used in un-adapted engines. Note that GM changed cork
floats to metal floats in the early 1920s to deal with this
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.
"Anti-detonants: leur emploi dans les carburants et leur
danger," Ind. Chimique, 1931, No. 208, p. 332, cited in Fulmer,
"The Use of Alcohol in Motor Fuels."
122 New York
Times, Nov. 28, 1915.
Alcohol from Tubers and Roots, SAE Journal, May, 1925, p. 546.
Also, Nathan, "Alcohol for Power Purposes."
and Engineering Chemistry, April 1925, p 334 .
Fulmer, "The Use of Alcohol in Motor Fuels."
Egloff, Motor Fuel Economy of Europe (Washington, D.C.: American
Petroleum Institute, Dec. 1940).
Congress of Industrial Chemistry," Industrial & Engineering
Chemistry, July 10,1924, p. 6.
Motor Fuel Economy of Europe.
communication, Fred R. Robinson to columnist Jack Anderson,
April 24, 1978. See footnote No. 91. Cuba continued using
alcohol fuels throughout the 20th century, especially after the
communist revolution of 1960, in order to stretch petroleum
supplies from the former Soviet Union.
The Forbidden Fuel, p. 140, p. 226.
communication, Maurine Lorenzetti, editor, Oxy-Fuel News,
Information Resources Inc., Washington DC, March, 1991.
133 "Alcogas as
Aviation Fuel Compared with Export Gasoline," SAE Journal, June
1920, p. 397.
communication, Col. Ralph Curtis, April 17, 1979. Curtis' letter
to columnist Jack Anderson was prompted by Anderson staffer Hal
Bernton's articles about gasohol.
of Technical Aspects of Alcohol Gasoline Blends," Prepared by
American Petroleum Institute Special Technical Committee, No.
216 in an unspecified series, undated, with memo dated April 10,
1933. Series 4, Box 52, Pew collection, Hagley Library,
136 Augustus W.
Giebelhaus, "Resistance to Long-Term Energy Transition: The Case
of Power Alcohol in the 1930s," American Association for the
Advancement of Science, Jan. 4, 1979.
Bernton, Bill Kovarik, Scott Sklar, The Forbidden Fuel: Power
Alcohol in the 20th Century (New York: Griffin, 1982).
Manchester, "Gasohol born in Ames, sold at service station,"
Ames Daily Tribune, March 11, 1978.
Despain, The One and Only Solution to the Farm Problem (New
York: Vantage Press, 1956), p. 113. Critics of alcohol fuel
might describe this book as one of the world's longest crank
letters because Despain is so obviously emotional about his
subject. Factual information should be seen in this light as
140 Everett M.
Dirksen, "The Congressional Front," March, 1933, Dirksen
Congressional Center archives, Peoria, Ill. Also, "Why the
Proposal to Blend Alcohol with Gasoline for Automotive Fuel is
Simple and Practical..." Keystone Steel & Wire CO, Peoria, Ill.
Despain, The One and Only Solution to the Farm Problem (New
York: Vantage Press, 1956), p. 113.
142 See, for
example, Proceedings of the Third Dearborn Conference, Farm
Chemurgic Journal, National Farm Chemurgic Council, Dearborn,
Mich., various volumes. Numerous references to the Farm Chemurgy
movement are found in the literature.
of L.M. Christensen, "Use of Alcohol from Farm Products in Motor
Fuel," Committee on Finance, U.S. Senate Hearings on SB 522, May
1939 (Washington: GPO, 1939); Also see "Alky-Gas Flops in Sioux
City, Business Week, July 30, 1938, p. 20; "Farm Crop Alcohol
Blended into Auto Fuel," Popular Mechanics, Oct. 1937; "Alky-Gas
Gets Going," Business Week, Dec. 25, 1937; "Blackstrap
Alky-Gas," Business Week, Sept. 9, 1939.
Alcohol: Not yet feasible or necessary in U.S.," Scientific
American, April, 1942.
145 U.S. Tariff
Commission, Industrial Alcohol, War Changes in Industry Series,
Report No. 2, (Washington, GPO: Jan. 1944).
certainly would have been delayed had not chemists familiar with
details of the synthetic rubber process been smuggled by British
spy groups out of Poland and Russia to the US just as war broke
out. The British were well aware that Standard Oil of N.J. had a
deal with Farben to block synthetic rubber, and considered
Standard a "hostile and dangerous element of the enemy"
according to William Stephenson's A Man Called Intrepid (New
York: Ballentine, 1976), p. 284.
example, see Al Frisbie, "The Old Alcohol Plant: Is there a
Lesson There?" World-Herald Magazine, May 28, 1978, Omaha,
Nebraska. Similar articles by other enterprising reporters
turned up information about American energy history which had
been completely overlooked.
148 US Tariff
Commission, Industrial Alcohol.
149 Harry Benge
Crozier, Director of Public Relations to members of the public
relations advisory committee, American Petroleum Institute,
April 24, 1933, Series 4 Box 52, J. Howard Pew papers, Hagley
Museum and Library, Wilmington, Del.
150 Hundreds of
memos on the organization of the anti-alcohol campaign
originating from API's various committees, including the
industries, public relations and refinery committees, are found
in Series 4 Box 52, J. Howard Pew papers, Hagley Museum and
Library, Wilmington, Del. Memos prepared by the "Special
Technical Committee" and the "Special Economics Committee" show
an intense level of activity. Every major American oil company
and most minor ones were involved in the campaign against
alcohol fuel through these committees, either directly or
indirectly. It is interesting to note that the position papers
presented by these committees contained not a whiff of
dissenting data, nor were any of the conclusions footnoted or
referenced in any way whatsoever.
Egloff, "Alcohol Gasoline Motor Fuels," National Petroleum
Association paper, April 21, 1933, Series 4 Box 52, J. Howard
Pew papers, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, Del.
documents are found in Series 4 Box 52, J. Howard Pew papers,
Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, Del.
153 "I have
told you what we could find out about the Keystone officials
..." E.W. Teagle, Chicago office of Sun, to J.N. Pew, April 27,
1933. Series 4 Box 52, J. Howard Pew papers, Hagley Museum and
Library, Wilmington, Del.
154 Everett M.
Dirksen, "The Congressional Front," May 5, 1933, Dirksen
Congressional Center archives, Peoria, Ill.
L.L.Stephens to Webb, Jan. 24, 1933, transcribed by FBI agents,
US Dept. of Justice Central Files, RG 60-57-107, Box 386-387,
National Archives, Washington, D.C. Parentheses as transcribed.
156 Webb to
Stephens, Feb. 9, 1933. US Dept. of Justice Central Files, RG
60-57-107, Box 386-387, National Archives, Washington, D.C.
157 William B.
Plummer to Graham Edgar, Ethyl, April 12, 1933, US Dept. of
Justice Central Files, RG 60-57-107, Box 386-387, National
Archives, Washington, D.C. It should be noted that while the FBI
found this telegram, other documentary sources about Ethyl's
activities at this time that should have been reviewed are
missing from GMI, Justice Dept. archives and other areas.
Interview with L.L. Coryell, Jr., Jan. 18, 1935, US Dept. of
Justice Central Files, RG 60-57-107, Box 386-387, National
Archives, Washington, D.C.
Gasoline Corp. et al, v United States, 309 US 436, March 25,
example, Giebelhaus reaches this conclusion.
Heath, Towards a Commercial Future: Ethanol & Methanol as
Alternative Transportation Fuels, Canadian Energy Research
Institute, Study no. 29, Jan. 1989.
162 "The ABCs
of Alky-Gas," Iowa Petroleum Public Relations Committee, 1936,
library, American Petroleum Instutute, Washington, D.C.
163 Joseph Pew
to H. Smith Richardson, Dec. 23, 1938, Hagley Museum & Library,
164 C.S. Mott,
Kettering Oral History Project, Interviewed by T.A. Boyd,
October 19, 1960, GMI, Flynt, Mich.