A Fortune 500 company producing additive chemicals to "enhance the performance of petroleum products." Ethyl is best known for being the exclusive seller of the gasoline additives tetraethyl lead (TEL) and methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl (MMT).
In 1921, inventor Charles F. Kettering (then working for General Motors) and engineer Thomas Midgley, Jr. (at Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (DELCO)) discovered that TEL reduced engine knock when added to gasoline. At the same time, Standard Oil of New Jersey (now Exxon Mobil) developed a method of manufacturing TEL more economically. Kettering helped found the General Motors Chemical Company as a joint venture of General Motors and Standard Oil in order to produce TEL on a large scale. Gasoline with TEL, called "Ethyl gasoline" was first made available to the United States public in 1923. In 1924, the company became Ethyl Gasoline Corporation, chartered in Delaware.
Kettering served as Ethyl's first president, while Midgley was vice president and general manager until his death in 1944. In 1942 the company changed its name to Ethyl Corporation. The next important event occurred in 1962 when Ethyl was purchased by Albemarle Paper Manufacturing Company. Albemarle, a much smaller Virginia company, was known for its premium blotting paper. Under president Floyd D. Gottwald, Albemarle had first expanded to include other paper products and then bought Ethyl to acquire the larger firm's polyethylene manufacturing capability. (In the late 1950's, polyethylene film became serious competition for traditional paper.) The combined company changed its name to Ethyl Corportation but the Gottwalds (Floyd and his sons Floyd, Jr. and Bruce) continued to oversee operations.
The next twenty years included extensive diversification into chemicals, plastics, aluminum, and energy operations. Several divisions were spun-off in the 1980's. In 1989 the plastics, aluminum, and energy units became Tredegar Industries, and in 1994 the specialty chemicals business returned to its roots as Albemarle Corporation. Following the petroleum industry trend of global consolidation in the 1990's, Ethyl acquired Amoco Petroleum Additives, Nippon Cooper, and Texaco Additives Company, thus bringing together most of the world's major petroleum additives producers.
Ethyl sells two major kinds of petroleum additives: fuel additives and lubricant additives. Fuel additives are chemicals that improve the performance of fuels (gasoline, diesel, aviation fuels and others). They enhance octane ratings, reduce emissions, and increase storage stability. The company is now the exclusive supplier of TEL to the world, although the lead additive has been phased out in many countries because of its potential neurotoxic effects on humans. The company's alternative anti-knock agent, MMT, has also come under attack for toxicity recently in Canada and the U.S.
Ethyl also makes organic and synthetic chemicals to improve the performance of lubricating oils, fluids, and greases. These lubricant additives protect engines from wear, corrosion, high operating temperatures, and other harmful processes. They include motor oils (for automobile, diesel, railroad, and marine engines), automatic transmission fluids, gear oils, hydraulic oils, and industrial lubricants.
Ethyl's corporate headquarters is a strikingly beautiful complex in the Gamble's Hill district of Richmond, Virginia, overlooking Tredegar Iron Works. This hilltop site near the James River was previously occupied by the Virginia State Penitentiary. Ethyl owns the historic Tredegar Iron Works site, part of which is the main visitor center of the National Park Service's Richmond National Battlefield Park. In addition to its Richmond facilities, Ethyl has regional research and sales offices in a number of other locations: Beijing, China; Ontario, Canada; Belgium; Hamburg, Germany; Berkshire, England; Tokyo, Japan; Moscow, Russia; Mumbai, India; Singapore; Rio de Janeiro, Brasil; France; The Netherlands.
Ethyl Corporation at http://www.ethyl.com
American Heritage Center at http://uwadmnweb.uwyo.edu/AHC/inventories/00548.htm