Thomas Midgley (18 May 1889 – 2 November 1944), was an American inventor. His two most famous inventions are both now banned because they are dangerous for the world environment: the use of lead in petrol (gasoline) and the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in refrigerators. Midgley was accidentally killed by something he was inventing.
Early life[change | change source]
Midgley was born in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. His father was also an inventor. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated from Cornell University in 1911 with a degree in mechanical engineering. His name was Thomas Midgley Jr because his father's name was also Thomas Midgley.
Discovery of Leaded Gasoline/Petrol[change | change source]
Midgley began working at General Motors in 1916. In December 1921 Midgley discovered that the addition of Tetraethyllead to gasoline prevented "knocking" in internal combustion engines.
Discovery of Freon[change | change source]
In the 1930s Midgley developed a non-poisonous substance called CFC (chlorinated fluorocarbon) for use in refrigerators, inhalers and aerosol spray cans. He was given many high awards for his work and in 1944 he became president and chairman of the American Chemical Society.
His death[change | change source]
In 1940, at the age of 51, Midgley became ill with polio which left him disabled. It was to the point where it was hard to do every day tasks; like getting out of bed. He decided to invent a complicated system of strings and pulleys to lift him from his bed. However, this plan backfired, and he got caught up in the ropes and died of strangulation.
After his death[change | change source]
Midgley died before the days when people realized that CFCs were destroying the ozone layer which prevents harmful rays from the sun reaching the earth. They are now banned in refrigerators, but are still used in some countries.
In the United States it was not until 1973 that people started to produce gasoline without lead and, in 1996, the Clean Air Act banned the sale of leaded fuel for use in on-road vehicles. However it was still legal in the U.S. for aircraft, racing cars, farm equipment, and marine engines until 2008. Leaded gasoline is still common in South America, Africa, and some parts of Asia and the Middle East.