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.