From Hero to Zero

January 13, 2010



Consider the case of Thomas Midgley Jr. An obviously brilliant engineer turned chemist, Midgley was awarded a number of prestigious medals for his work as a chemist and was president and chairman of the American Chemical Society and held over 100 patents. And yet, Midgely may be regarded in some way as the greatest single enemy of the environment.


Midgely’s two greatest claims to fame as a chemist are the introduction of lead to petrol and the invention of Freon, an ozone-depleting CFC used in refrigerants and aerosol propellants. Both of these are regarded as prime culprits in the destruction of the earth’s atmosphere. How should history remember him? One could forgive the CFCs as their effect has only recently become known, but lead was still used in petrol over 70 years after Midgley poisoned himself in a ‘safety demonstration’ of tetra-ethyl lead. One could blame the petrol industry for that, but I can find no record of Midgley speaking out against the continued use of leaded petrol.

imageThere is another quirky aspect to Midgley that appeals to my warped mind. He is listed as one of the ‘10 Inventors Killed By Their Inventions’ on the wonderfully instructive website Listverse. Not only did Midgley manage to give himself lead poisoning, but after contracting polio he managed to kill himself by becoming entangled in the ropes of the pulley system he built to help him be lifted from his bed.

Listverse contains hundreds of top 10 lists of varying quality from the fascinating Top 10 Common Faults In Human Thought to the trivial Top 10 Filmable Batman Villains via the odd Top 10 Interesting Facts about the Scythians

There are too many fabulous lists to include here. Go and have a look for yourself. Here is one to get you started – 10 Urban Legends that Caused a Moral Panic




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