Category Archives: Feature

Truman investigation

in the US Senate Judiciary Committee in 1942 found “treasonable” links between Standard Oil Co. and the Nazis.  Standard was protecting IG Farben patents in the US, deliberately delaying critical war materials development in order to help their industrial allies make a profit.

Synthetic rubber

…  was a crucial war material that could be made from ethanol or, with the right technology, from petroleum or coal. The problem with the petroleum and coal technology was that it had been licensed by Standard Oil in a partnership with the Nazi chemical company, I.G. Farben, which of course was infamous for constructing a synthetic gasoline plant that used slave labor for Auschwitz concentration camp.

The oil industry

has never been happy about competition, especially from ethanol.  And yet, after a century and a half of conflict, octane boosting ethanol blends have become standard in US gasoline. How did that happen? How did the oil industry fight its competitors?  And why didn’t it win?

Henry Ford

was an advocate for ethyl alcohol fuel early in his career. Like many Detroit auto-makers, he was worried more about long-term oil availability than the price of ethanol (which was reasonable but higher than gasoline).  He also hoped that ethanol production would fuel a rural renaissance for the farms he loved.


… was a 1937-39 blend of 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol sold in 2,000 Midwestern service stations.  The idea was to boost fuel “octane,” and the farm economy, without having to use tetra-ethyl lead.

Lamp fuel

was simply called “burning fluid” in the years before kerosene from petroleum was introduced. This illustration is from a turpentine / alcohol blending plant in Boston, 1853.

Home lighting

was the original use for ethanol. From around the 1820s onward, ethyl alcohol in blends with turpentine became increasingly common, far surpassing whale oil in the 1850s.  Use fell off after an 1862 tax on ethanol, which was lifted by trust buster Teddy Roosevelt and Congress in 1906. This ad, from a 1909 National Grange magazine, shows the return of home lighting with an alcohol lamp helping a mother take care of her children.


was a racing fuel developed by Harry Ricardo that was sold commercially between 1930 and 1965 in Britain.  Many preferred it to toxic leaded gasoline.