The Lead Diary

Time to set the record straight on a major missing piece of the history of fuel technology

By Bill Kovarik

For nearly 15 years, the industry responsible for introducing and defending leaded gasoline has maintained a stony silence about its history. That checkered past was first made public, outside scholarly circiles, by Jamie Kitman in the Nation magazine in 2000.

In response, the Ethyl corporation (now New Market Corp) claimed that all this history of leaded gasoline is old news and that all documents relating to the issue have long been public.   According to Ethyl Corp.’s Lloyd Osgood, Kitman’s research was “a distorted interpretation of known historic events and documents that have long been in the public record.”

Of course, if that were true, then Ethyl Corp. (New Market) would not have blocked the release of historical documents produced in the Reginald Smith Jr., et al, v. Lead Industries Association case of 1999.

Many thousands of pages of historical documents are still privately held by the Ethyl Corp., Exxon and General Motors, although many DuPont documents appear to have been released to the Hagley Library in Wilmington, Del.

The most important missing piece of the puzzle is The Lead Diary, a collection of several thousand original documents from which T.A. Boyd and Charles Kettering refreshed their memories as their memoirs were being written in the 1940s. The last reference to the Lead Diary is in the Green Book histories by General Motors public relations staff created in the 1950s. It is unlikely to have been destroyed; and probably is still in the archives of Ethyl or G.M.

Items missing or withheld from public archives include:

• The “Lead Diary” / several hundred linear feet of records (possibly 50 to 500 boxes of files) about fuels research from the DELCO / GM Dayton labs in the 1917  –  1950s time frame.
• Test diaries and day-to-day records of experiments conducted during 1920 – 22 period when tetraethyl lead was discovered by GM researchers in Dayton,      Ohio.
• Correspondence with & from members of the Surgeon General¹s Committee concerning alternatives to tetraethyl lead anti-knock agents.
• Original 1922 – 23 correspondence to Midgley and Kettering from Krause, Hunt, Wilson, Henderson and others concerning the dangers of tetraethyl lead, some of which may have been in the Lead Diary.
• Minutes of the Board of Directors of the Ethyl Corp.
• Minutes of the Medical Committee of du Pont, G.M. and Standard.
• Records or memos concerning production issues in Dayton, Ohio, April, 1924.
• Telegrams exchanged between Charles Kettering in Paris and Ethyl Corp.headquarters in New York during Oct., 1924.
• Du Pont and other studies of the resource base for pure ethyl alcohol fuel and other high-quality fuel components. (One crucial 1919 study was cited in a memo by T.A. Boyd in 1921.)
• Reports of the Standard Oil and DuPont experiments.
• Memos from Midgley to Kettering about fuel additives, for example,  “Synthol” experiments, Dayton G.M. labs, summer 1925.
• Records or memos of contacts with public officials , especially contacts with Treasury Secretary Mellon, with Surgeon General Cummings, and (then) Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover.