LEAD ASTRAY: How the Poisonous Leaded Gasoline Additive Beat Out Ethanol

LEAD ASTRAY book cover
Ever wonder how things might have been had the use of alternative fuels been embraced at the dawn of the automobile?

Did you know that:

  • Henry Ford built the Model T in 1908 and the Model A in 1927 to run on either gasoline or ethanol making them the first flex-fuel vehicles?
  • Ethanol was a gasoline octane enhancer until leaded gasoline replaced it in 1925?
  • Millions of gallons of high-octane ethanol were sold as fuel for automobiles at thousands of Midwestern filling stations in the late 1930s?

The author pulls together facts from periodicals, books and newspapers of the early twentieth century to bring this intriguing and unique work to print.

Spanning 1920 through 1939, the author brings the early battles between Big Oil and those promoting biofuel to vivid life. It is 1921 and General Motors desperately needs a higher octane fuel to run the more powerful engines necessary for its next generation of larger trucks and luxurious automobiles. Clean burning, high octane ethanol is the clear choice as a gasoline additive. There’s only one problem—the du Pont family has taken control of GM and wants a patentable chemical additive they can exclusively produce and receive billions in royalties. Two years later, a GM engineer gives it to them—deadly tetraethyl lead.

Afraid that Henry Ford may market ethanol at any time, production of the leaded additive begins before safety equipment is fully installed and tested. Immediately, factory workers begin dying and going insane from acute lead poisoning, while hundreds others become seriously ill. Fearing poisoning of the world’s population, safety experts raise the alarm and call for testing of leaded fuel’s use in motor cars, but are immediately attacked. After a Christmas Eve meeting at his home with the heads of GM, DuPont, and Standard Oil, the U.S. Surgeon General calls for a conference and mysteriously proclaims leaded gasoline safe for all. The poisonous gasoline hits the market and will be added to more than 90-percent of gasoline sold.

Not giving up, an aging Henry Ford backs the first U.S. ethanol fuel plant to help farmers sell their corn surpluses. Amid staunch resistance from major oil companies, ethanol fuel is sold by thousands of filling stations across the Midwest to be blended with gasoline, instead of the poisonous lead additive. Success seems certain despite sabotage and dirty politics, but in 1939, ethanol disappears for decades. Instead, vehicles around the world continue to run on leaded gasoline as billions of pounds of lead dust will settle into the soil and water and the bloodstreams of humans and other living organisms.

Read LEAD ASTRAY: How the Poisonous Leaded Gasoline Additive Beat Out Ethanol.