Midgley, Lead, and MoJo

A few years ago, I read a book that I couldn’t stop talking about: “Losing Our Cool,” by Stan Cox. One of the trivia items that stuck out for me was the story of Thomas Midgley, the former General Motors chemist, who invented both Freon, the ozone-hole-inducing refrigerant we all know and love. Not only that, he was the guy who discovered the lead, added to gasoline, could stop that pesky knocking sound in the engine.

As Cox reports in his book, one historian remarked that Midgley “had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in earth history.”

Turns out, that’s not all he did. Midgley’s leaded gasoline discovery now appears to be linked to increased crime rates in the U.S., throughout the 1960-1980s. A fantastic piece of journalism from Kevin Drum at Mother Jones has the whole story.

I still think Midgley’s name should become part of modern language.

  • Midgely’s Law: a law of unintended consequences
  • midgley (n) — a well-intentioned effort gone bad

or something like that.

One response to “Midgley, Lead, and MoJo”

  1. There’s also “midgen,” which according to the OED is “1. The fat surrounding the entrails of an animal; suet.” Apparently unrelated to smidgen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: