Our Own Hall of Fame
THOMAS MIDGLEY, JR.
WORKED WITH KETTERING
Midgley Boon to Mankind But One Invention Fatal
THE DAYTON DAILY NEWS, MARCH 10, 1961
BY MARY ELLEN LYNCH
Daily News Staff Writer
Thomas Midgley Jr., the man who took the knock out of gasoline and put the chill in refrigerators, held more than 100 patents. But in the end, one of his inventions killed him.
A native of Beaver Falls, Pa., Midgley majored in mechanical engineering (even though his later triumphs were in chemistry which he picked up himself) at Cornell university. He came to Dayton in 1911, drawn by stories of Daytonian Charles F. Kettering’s work in the automotive field.
Midgley’s father and grandfather had been inventors and the young man was hungry to investigate and innovate for himself.
HE GOT A job at the National Cash register Co., met his idol Kettering, and later joined the Delco Light Co., when it was organized by Kettering and Col. E. A. Deeds.
A troublesome knock in engines was a major bugaboo of the auto industry at that time, and “Midge” set out to beat it.
Using shingle nails, a tomato can, rubber bands and photographic paper, he and Kettering made the first photographs of what happens in an engine to make it knock.
The research was a tedious process-once Midgley pleaded with Kettering for permission to quit the project-but by 1920 he had discovered tetraethyl lead, the key to anti-knock gasoline.
THEN CAME another struggle—marketing the gasoline. At first it was thought that the lead might be poisonous, but it finally got a clean bill of health. Then it was learned that the gasoline caused spark plug erosion and exhaust valve burning.
During this period small quantities of ethyl gasoline were doled out to auto companies for trials. The president of the firm making Marmons was so enthusiastic he promptly asked for more.
Midgley suggested he might like to wait until some of the faults were corrected, but the Marmon head wired back: “Bad as it is, I should like to have some more.”
Finally ethyl was perfected and launched first at a single gasoline station on S. Main St. in Dayton and then on a large scale by the Standard Oil Co. of Indiana.
AT HIS DEATH, Midgley was vice president of the Ethyl Gasoline Co.
In 1940 he was stricken with polio at his home in Worthington and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. The famed inventor’s greatest ambition became to walk again.
Because his legs were paralyzed, he rigged up a harness-like contraption to help himself get in and out of bed.
ONE MORNING in 1944—when he was 55—Midgley was found dead.
He had strangled in the harness he invented.
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