search articles: 

   from the issue of November 9, 2006

'Ethanol's Lost History' presented Nov. 16

You may feel very up-to-date when you pull up at the pump to fill your tank with ethanol, but Nebraskans more than 70 years ago were doing exactly the same thing.

CORN-BASED BLEND - Nebraska Gov. Charles Wayland Bryan and the unidentified sheriff of Merrick County symbolically filled their gas tanks with...
CORN-BASED BLEND - Nebraska Gov. Charles Wayland Bryan and the unidentified sheriff of Merrick County symbolically filled their gas tanks with a new product, a blend of gasoline with 10 percent corn alcohol, in this photo taken April 11, 1933. The pumps at Earl Coryell's station, 14th and N streets, Lincoln, were decorated to promote the new gas. Photo from Nebraska State Historical Society.

How ethanol disappeared, only to be rediscovered, will be explored in a public presentation at 7 p.m. Nov. 16, at the Great Plains Art Museum.

Bill Kovarik, professor of communication at Radford University in Radford, Va., will offer insights into the long, little-known and intrigue-filled history of ethanol in a presentation co-sponsored by the Nebraska State Historical Society and UNL's Center for Great Plains Studies.

Kovarik teaches science and environment writing, media history and media law at Radford. His books include a history of ethanol in the United States, "The Forbidden Fuel: Power Alcohol in the Twentieth Century, and Mass Media and Environmental Conflict" (with Mark Neuzil).

This innovative motor fuel was offered not as a way to relieve short oil supplies or mitigate environmental problems. Rather, ethanol promised economic relief for Depression-ravaged farmers and offered increased octane ratings. Ethanol was an excellent anti-knock additive, and entrepreneur Earl Coryell worked with scientists from the then Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts (renamed Iowa State University in 1959) to develop the alcohol-blend gasoline.

Ethanol's principal competitor was tetraethyl lead (TEL), a highly poisonous chemical, which would remain the principal anti-knock agent for nearly 50 years. Advanced by the Ethyl Corp., an enterprise created by Standard Oil, General Motors and DuPont, TEL was ethanol's, and therefore Coryell's, strongest competition.

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

"Back to the Fuel of the Future: Exploring Ethanol's Lost History" is open to the public free of charge. For more information go online to or call the Nebraska State Historical Society at 471-3270.



Profs meld architecture, humanities
Oakley guides UNL's first Asian American lit class
Sheldon seminar aims to integrate art, coursework
'Ethanol's Lost History' presented Nov. 16
Labor force grows despite population declines
National honors council finds home at UNL
Students volunteer for ABC