If ever you feel like you're a terrible person, remember Thomas Midgely: the man who gave us *not only* leaded gasoline (using tetraethyl lead, which caused widespread lead poisoning in the fabs that produced the gas as well as devastating environmental effects that are still felt to this day), but *also* developed the first chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which he felt would be too inert to do any "real harm". (Tell that to the ozone layer.)

Lest you try to defend him as a product of his time:

When there was outcry surrounding the use of lead in gasoline, and potential effects on the environment as well as public health, especially in emerging urban centers where pollution from early cars was already a problem, Midgely's solution was to stage a public demonstration and *wash his hands in tetraethyl lead* to show its "safety". That he spent the next year out of the public eye recovering from LEAD POISONING was quietly covered up.

Ah, but you're probably wondering now how he died. Rest assured, Thomas Midgely was *not* unaffected by his own inventions.

Struck by polio in the 1940s, he was left partially paralyzed. To combat this, he devised an elaborate system of ropes and pulleys that would get him out of bed each morning.

One morning, they malfunctioned and strangled him, killing him.

I'm not kidding.

If only Midgely had *thought through* his inventions!

It's notable as well that during his lifetime he won some of the highest honors that you can win as a chemist -- the Perkin and Priestly Medals, for instance.

The effects of CFCs on the atmosphere wouldn't be discovered until 30 years after his death, and so I don't fault the man for *that*...

...but I do fault him for his use of tetraethyl lead.

If ever you despair that you're not a rising star your field, remember Thomas Midgely, and perhaps breathe a sigh of relief that you're *not* -- because glob knows what your legacy will look like thirty years after your death (and no-one besides Midgely deserves to be hanged -- however literally -- by their own petard).

@hafnia if the "cowboy chemist" has a patron saint, I suspect it would be Midgely. or perhaps that fool who distilled methyl iodide in a shack for his sketchy chemical business as described in this book (

@mona your thread the other day about chemists that were also terrible people reminded me of Midgely. I nominate him as THE WORST.

@OldBrushNewPaper Ha, you're welcome. If it has to do with poisonings or people in my field being jerks, I probably know about it!

@hafnia I reckon the poisonings are something of "survival knowledge" - or at least professionally adjacent.

(Tangental: the time a writer friend was clearing out his library, and I ended up taking a volume called something like "A writer's guide to poisoning" - listing symptoms and some general chemistry, in the name of better accuracy in one's stories...)

@hafnia wow, that is some dedication to the kayfabe

the things people do for a million bucks

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