Gasohol – The First Time Around

black and white photograph of people at gas station in 1933

This photograph, from the MacDonald Studio of Lincoln and now in the History Nebraska collections, shows cars belonging to Nebraska Governor Charles W. Bryan (left) and the Merrick County sheriff at the Earl Coryell station, Fourteenth and N streets, Lincoln, on April 11, 1933. Their tanks are being ceremonially filled with a new product: gasoline blended with 10 percent corn alcohol.

 


This innovative motor fuel was not promoted as a way to relieve oil shortages or mitigate environmental problems. Rather, ethanol promised economic relief for Depression-ravaged farmers and offered drivers increased octane ratings. Ethanol was an excellent anti-knock additive, and Coryell had worked with scientists from the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (now Iowa State University) to develop the alcohol-based gasoline.

Ethanol’s principal competitor was tetraethyl lead, a highly poisonous chemical that would remain the most common anti-knock agent for nearly fifty years. Advances by the Ethyl Corporation, created by Standard Oil, General Motors, and DuPont, allowed them to produce tetraethyl lead inexpensively, and therefore dominate the market.

In 1936 Coryell joined as a complainant in an antitrust lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department, which ultimately failed in the U.S. Supreme Court. By 1940 ethanol gasoline had vanished, unable to compete economically with leaded gasoline.

This originally appeared in the Summer 2006 issue of Nebraska History Magazine.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Cleaning Amelia Earhart’s Sporting License

Cleaning Amelia Earhart’s Sporting License

Marker Monday: Nebraska’s Big Rodeo

Marker Monday: Nebraska’s Big Rodeo

Making Rain

Making Rain

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

Education Digital Learning Resources

Find games, lists, and more to enhance your history education curriculum.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

History Nebraska Services

Digital Resources

Find all of our digital resources, files, videos, and more, all in one easy-to-search page!

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.