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Thomas Midgley, Jr.

Thomas Midgley, Jr. is probably most remembered not for what he invented, but for the way he died.

Tom was a prolific inventor with over 100 patents. He was the primary chemist on the team that created leaded gasoline, known as ethyl gasoline. That was a good thing, making engines quieter, longer-lasting, and improving fuel economy. It was also a bad thing, filling the world's atmosphere with toxic lead compounds. At least ten people in the first leaded gasoline plant died of lead poisoning. Tom Midgley himself suffered severe lead poisoning.

He then went on to work with another team in developing chlorofluorocarbons, more commonly called CFCs. Freon was the first commercial CFC. It is used in air conditioning and refrigeration. In a way, it's a good chemical, because it replaced explosive, flammible or toxic gases that had been used. But, it is also bad. In the quantities that it leaks out of millions cooling units throughout the world, it has damaged the earth's ozone layer.

So, Tom was two for two, inventing things that should have been good, but turned out to have a dark side.

Those who believe in instant karma may believe that what happened next was pre-ordained. Your author believes it wasn't bad karma at all. Tom had good intentions, but bad luck.

At the age of 51, he came down with polio. Four years later, being badly disabled from the disease, he invented a system of pulleys and cables to hoist himself out of bed. Turns out that idea wasn't so great either. One morning, he got twisted up in his mechanism, with a cable pressing on his neck, and choked to death.


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