Tetraethyl Lead

  • John Jewkes
  • David Sawers
  • Richard Stillerman


The discovery of ethylised fuels provided a means of increasing the anti-knock rating of petrols and so of improving the operational efficiency of motor-car engines. The story of this discovery begins in 1912 when Charles Kettering, then of the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, became interested in the problem of ‘knock’. Along with Thomas Midgley, a graduate mechanical engineer from Cornell, whom he had taken into his employment, Kettering set out in search of a cure. After eliminating the possibility that the source of the spark was the cause of the ‘knock’, the inventors had the idea that the remedy might be found by adding something to the fuel and that the colour of this additive might be important. They mixed iodine with the fuel because it was the only material with a bright colour available to them, and the knock disappeared. Still pursuing the idea of colour, they next experimented with aniline dyes but here the results were negative.


General Motor Methyl Chloride Ethyl Iodide Tetraethyl Lead Ethyl Chloride 
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    Story of Ethyl as gathered from the testimony of C. F. Kettering in the case of United States v. du Pont, Civil Action No. 49C 1071 Federal Dist. Ct. Ill.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Midgley, T., Jr., ‘Problem+Research+Capital=Progress’, Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, May 1939.Google Scholar
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    Schlaifer, R., and Heron, S. C., Development of Aircraft Engines and Development of Aviation Fuels, 1950.Google Scholar
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    ‘The Story of Ethyl’, National Petroleum News, Feb. 5, 1936.Google Scholar
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    Nickerson, S. P., ‘Tetraethyl Lead: A Product of American Research’, Journal of Chemical Education, Nov. 1954.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John Jewkes, David Sawers and Richard Stillerman 1969

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Jewkes
  • David Sawers
  • Richard Stillerman

There are no affiliations available

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