Old Ethyl ad: young boy implies father is weak because he isn't driving fast enough

Ethyl: the fuel for men who allow their children to goad them into driving dangerously! Oedipus, schmoedipus, so long as he loves his mother.

Poor Dad seems to have enough lead in his system as it is.


  1. I presume Ethyl is short for tetraethyl lead, right? Interesting that lead is mentioned nowhere in the ad copy.

    1. Ethyl was a brand for an anti-knock liquid. It’s main ingredient was tetraethyllead to which were added scavengers such as dibromoethane and dichloroethane which react with the used lead to form volatile exhaust products rather than remaining as elemental lead. 

      The Ethyl Corporation was the largest producer of tetraethyllead in the US, and a subsidiary of Standard Oil who obviously wanted to sell more gasoline. Tetraethyllead was the first reliable and cheap anti-knock agent which allowed cars to have high compresson engines and made gasoline behave consistently. There had been anti knock agents before including iodine and aniline but they had a nasty tendency to eat the engine. Ethanol had also been used but it was both corrosive to engine components and absorbed water causing unreliable starts and impared performance. Tetraethyllead on the other hand was entirely benign – apart from being a deadly neurotoxin.

  2. “The car is going fast enough, Junior. Let me hit the breaks right now to show you how fast it is.”

  3. from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetraethyllead: “One commonly discussed agent was ethanol, although it was not as cheap.”

    So…   Use lead instead of ethanol, and call it Ethyl — BRILLIANT!

  4. I think the kid’s just showing early symptoms of lead poisoning, since we all know what the Ethyl Corporation and Thomas Midgley did.

  5. GRANDFATHER, not dad. Just look at him. Pop=granddad.  And even in the 1950’s they were known for being pokey on the roads.

  6. Tetraethyl lead is almost miraculous when it comes to stopping combustion preignition.  Unfortunately every living thing on earth has a little extra lead in its tissues thanks to its use in motor fuels.  And some things, like kids in urban areas, absorbed enough to interfere with neurological development and possibly lower IQ.

  7. It should be noted that this is indeed an ad for tetraethyl lead, i.e. leaded gasoline. This product responsible for raising global environmental lead levels 625 times above normal in under a century. In fact, the levels of lead are so high now, that one way of detecting art forgeries is to look at the lead levels in the plant or animal components of the paint.  If they aren’t wildly high, they were made before the 20th Century.

    Also, tetraethyl lead was developed by one Thomas Midgley, Jr, the same man who developed chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, the stuff that destroyed the ozone layer.There’s a lot of evil history in that there ad.

    1. Why does that have to be noted? I think we are all sold on excessive lead = bad for us and the environment. Don’t worry, this boingboing post is not the first step to reintroducing leaded gasoline . . .

  8. I think I read in Bill Bryson’s book “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, that the same guy who developed lead (ethyl) for gas also was responsible for the invention of freon. One man’s contribution can take us down a very deep hole.

    1. …the same guy who developed lead (ethyl) for gas also was responsible for the invention of freon. One man’s contribution can take us down a very deep hole.

      Also, tetraethyl lead was developed by one Thomas Midgley, Jr, the same man who developed chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs, the stuff that destroyed the ozone layer.There’s a lot of evil history in that there ad.

      Jeez, this guy wasn’t enviro-Hitler. He developed Freon shortly before anyone was even sure there WAS an ozone layer, much less how it worked or how it could be vulnerable to a certain class of molecules being injected into it by the megaton. As for TEL, the people who were against it on safety grounds were concerned about factory workers inhaling it by the gallon, not cumulative environmental micro-exposure.In other words, there are sometimes unintended and unforeseeable consequences of our choices. If it helps anyone sleep better at night, he apparently died a pretty horrible death.

      1. While Thomas Midgley, Jr., might not have known about the macro-environmental effects of his invention, he was well aware of the health effects (see his wikipedia entry).  For someone to promote something that not only negatively affected his own health, but caused the deaths of factory workers via the same mechanism (exposure to lead), I can only conclude that at best he was extremely misguided and shortsighted, and entirely despicable at worst.  I hope he did die a horrible death, he deserved it.

      2. Good point, it’s worth remembering that the most common refrigerants before freon came along were anhydrous ammonia and sulfur dioxide – both of which are lethal. Midgley probably saved thousands of lives who would have been lost in everyday domestic accidents from leaking refrigerators.

        Interestingly, Einstein and Leó Szilárd (who first conceived of and patented the idea of nuclear fission) invented a refrigerator because of a deadly ammonia leak that killed a German family. Their fridge had no moving parts, used a non toxic refrigerant and was much less prone to failure.


      3. And let’s not forget that the alternatives to freon at the time were pleasant things like sulfur dioxide and ammonia, which killed people pretty good when it happened to leak.

  9. If you’re talking about cold Ethyl, it was Alice Cooper, close though.
    I think this should be panel 1.  Panel 2 would be child’s face toward the viewer, preferably spitting teeth, as “Pop” is in the act of replacing his gloved (no evidence) hand back onto the gear-stick/shift.
    Yep, that’s why I’m in finance and not advertising.

  10. Kiddo appears unreasonably angry at the traffic patterns. I wonder if he will be growing up to contribute to the correlation between serum lead levels and population-level criminality…

  11. What’s with all the post-millenial wimps? My parents drove slow as molasses and it was booo-ring. Driving fast and driving recklessly are two different things- I’m with the kid. Step on that pedal, pops, we’ve got a life to lead. I bet some of you put bike helmets on your kids at the playground, too, carry a water bottle everywhere you go, along with a bottle of hand sanitizer just in case, etc.

  12. It’s not that the kid is goading his grandpa to speed, it’s more that he’s criticizing the poor condition of grandpa’s car, obviously due to his not using ethyl-enhanced fuel…  The implication is that he’s not even able to go the speed limit, his car is falling apart.  

    Regardless, the ad is entertaining on many levels not least for its ‘7 out of 10 doctors smoke Camels” aspect.

  13. Maybe it would have been more effective to have his wife in the next seat, yelling, “They’re all passing you!  Mother TOLD me I should have married Joe Baxter!  No one passes HIM!”

    1. Or if it was his wife yelling, “They’re all passing you! And you can’t maintain an erection!” That’d work too.

  14. Nothing has changed.  Pops was probably only doing the speed limit.  Never has been fast enough for the driver behind you.

  15. As if all the cars on the highway around them are going to the same place.
    Pops: “A bit slow yourself, aren’t you, sonny?”

  16. I wonder how much good came out of Thomas Midgley, Jr’s inventions?  Do you think a properly functioning vehicle or safely refrigerated food and medicine ever saved a life or made a life better?  The kangaroo court here trying to vilify him is hysterical.

  17. Look at the expression on Pop’s face- that’s not shame, it’s fear. Junior’s raised fist is a testimony of ongoing elder abuse.

  18. From the wikipedia page:
    “On October 30, 1924, Midgley participated in a press conference to demonstrate the apparent safety of TEL. In this demonstration, he poured TEL over his hands, then placed a bottle of the chemical under his nose and inhaled its vapor for sixty seconds, declaring that he could do this every day without succumbing to any problems whatsoever”. 
    For him to use such a media stunt to undermine criticism of tetraethyl lead, even though in the three years prior to that press conference more than a dozen factory employees had died from lead exposure during the production of tetraethyl lead, is indicative of a human being who cares more about promoting his invention than in protecting his fellow human beings from a well known and documented health risk.  Quite the saint.

  19. I think this kid might be Riley’s grandpa – taking a break from waxing poetic about his father’s ‘Stylish New Buick Roadmaster.’

  20. The Ethyl Corporate headquarters is atop a large grass hill over top a river.  I used to go flying off that hill with my mountain bike like a ski jump.  The Ethyl security chased me many times but never caught me because I’d haul ass to the lush island in the middle of the river below where their pickup trucks couldn’t reach me over the footbridge.  Sweet memories.

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