IMG_0380Time for a reminder that today is Tom Midgley Day, celebrating the 126th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Midgley Jnr, the American engineer and chemist, on 18th May 1889.

Who Tom Midgley you ask? He is the man who, despite always having the best intentions, unwittingly unleashed two major health hazards on an unsuspecting world. J. R. McNeill, the environmental historian, said that Midgley “had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth’s history,” while Bill Bryson has commented that Midgley possessed “an instinct for the regrettable that was almost uncanny.”

You can find his full story on Wikipedia  however it all began in 1921, when he discovered that adding lead to petrol could prevent knocking in internal combustion engines. Midgley himself subsequently suffered severe lead poisoning however this did not deter the motor industry from shifting to leaded petrol. Not content with this, a few years later, Midgley headed the team that developed Freon and other CFC gases as refrigerants and aerosol propellants.

Having contributed lead pollution and ozone depletion to the atmosphere, in 1940 Midgley contracted polio and was left disabled. He therefore devised his third and final invention: a system of ropes and pulleys to help others lift him from his bed. Unfortunately, in early November 1944, he became entangled in his own contraption’s ropes and died of strangulation.