I was recently reading “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and came across the section that described Thomas Midgley from Dayton, Ohio. For those of you not aware, Midgley worked at the Dayton Engineering Laboratories of General Motors during the early days of the automobile (1920s – 1930s). Midgley was famous for inventing both leaded gasoline and chlorinated fluorocarbons (CFC). These were both considered tremendous achievements for the time. Leaded gasoline was crucial for smooth engine operation, and CFCs (commonly known as Freon) were the basis of the air conditioner and the household refrigerator. Midgley actually won numerous awards for his inventions from esteemed organizations such as the American Chemical Society.
It’s interesting how longer term history is always the best method for determining if someone is a goat or a star… Over the last thirty years, we’ve discovered that lead is harmful for the body in numerous ways. Thus, leaded gasoline is nowhere to be found these days. Meanwhile, scientists also determined that CFCs would destroy the ozone layer (they figured this out long before Al Gore was running around talking about global warming), and these have all but been eliminated.
So, was Midgley a genius or a goat?