Burton, William M.


American chemist, his thermal cracking process revolutionized development of gasoline and diesel fuel for vehicles



Type:  Autograph Sentiment Signed
Description: (1865-1954) American chemist, developed a thermal cracking process for increasing the proportion of gasoline obtainable from petroleum, patented 1913. Catalytic cracking is the most important process for the commercial production of gasoline and diesel fuel. His work made it possible for oil companies to more than double the gasoline yield from crude oil. His process was adopted as a standard among American oil companies as the industry exploded in the early part of the 20th century. At the turn of the century, oil companies distilled crude oil to produce gasoline to fuel machinery and the few automobiles that were on the roads. As the automobile industry boomed, oil firms would no longer be able to satisfy drivers’ needs with the usual processes they were using.

Crude oil, a mixture of various hydrocarbons of differing molecular weight, can be separated into several groups of constituents by distillation. Burton’s thermal cracking process used high temperatures at high pressures to “crack,” or break down, heavier hydrocarbons into lighter molecules. By transforming many less-volatile components of crude oil into fractions suitable for blending into gasoline, thermal cracking doubled that fuel’s yield. Although other techniques have since been developed, the Burton process is still widely used.

Burton earned a BA from Western Reserve University in 1886 and completed a PhD in Chemistry at Johns Hopkins University in 1889. He began work as a chemist at the Standard Oil Co. (Indiana) refinery at Whiting, Indiana, in 1890, rising swiftly to serve as president 1918-27.

He  was working as general manager of manufacturing for Standard Oil in 1909 when he and his team tried to solve the problem of increasing the yield of gasoline from crude oil. Working with chemist Dr. Robert Humphreys, he created a process where gas oil would be held inside a container and heated to an extremely high temperature until it reached over 700°F. The process resulted in the desired level of cracking and was quickly adopted as a standard in the industry. The Burton process, as it was called, allowed oil companies to save one+ billion barrels of crude oil during its first 15 years of use.

He was awarded the Willard Gibbs Medal by the American Chemical Society in 1918 and the Perkins Medal from the Society of Chemical Industry in 1921. In 1984, he was posthumously inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame.

Autograph Sentiment (“yours very truly”) Signed on a 2 x 3 ½ card

Condition: Very Good

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