The Ballad of Thomas Midgley Jr.

Nate “Comparatively Superlative” Gabriel

The patron saint of screwers-up and plans they should reject.
Poor Thomas Midgley Junior’s up for awful side effects.
He made his name by solving, first, a problem longstanding.
A shockwave in an engine burst, they called it knock or ping.
A chemical our Thomas found could make it stop instead.
Its name, though at the time renowned, was tetraethyl lead.

Though lead can poison, it is known, Team Tom feared not this doom.
He breathed it in, the press was shown, proved safety of the fumes.
And so because it worked for sure and safety seemed okay,
They fueled it up in every Ford and every Chevrolet.
But when the next few decades came with ethyl-poisoned sky
It hit kids’ brains about the same as constant TBI.

The politicians feared for crime, the doctors for the lungs.
And spleen, and kidneys… look, this grime just poisons old and young.
‘Twas phased out in the seventies and banned in ninety-six.
Of course, with life-span’s brevities, T.M. would miss the fix.
Instead, with glory of success he’d help with how things freeze.
A new win he would soon profess, and it was…CFCs.

A new type of refrigerant, and safe, for sure, we swear.
But future years’ belligerents would ban it everywhere.
The Protocol of Montreal, enforced for safety’s sake.
Prohibited the chemicals that ozone layers break.
For Freon to the South Pole flies; the activists said nope.
It would have messed with O3’s triatomic allotrope.

The lead he should have known about, the Freon, who can say?
But through inventions since thrown out he wrecked stuff to this day.
He caused four decades’ crime waves and he dug the ozone hole.
His products? For the climate they’ve been near as bad as coal.
But with the honors, tragedy: despite his prizes’ glow,
Our hero was struck down when he contracted polio.

And when, like Franklin Roosevelt, he wound up paralyzed,
A clever set of ropes and belts would help him sleep, and rise.
But as with ev’ry thing before that he had ever made
Past each success that he could score, the side effects outweighed.
So once again it worked, it’s true, the stated goal was met.
Until a piece went off, askew, and left him choked to death.

While clearing out an attic I was shocked by what I found.
I didn’t know at first quite why this box was sealed and bound.
A set of blueprints with his name and with his signature.
That someone had forgot to claim and left stuck in a drawer.
Our light bulbs could all be improved, with more efficiency
Unless of course you’re not unmoved by sordid history.

Do you think I should make a buck and get a patent for it?
Or safer not to trust to luck and nuke the site from orbit?