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The Man Who Made Gasoline from Water
1976 The Old Farmer's Almanac

1976 Old Farmer's Almanac
1976 Old Farmer's Almanac - RF Cafe[Index]

Reproduced here are various Mathematical Puzzles from The Old Farmer's Almanac, published continuously since 1792. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

This story from the 1976 issue of Old Farmer's Almanac (OFA) is fair game for RF Cafe because of its technical aspect, but there is yet another interesting reason that might require an amateur radio operator to notice. "The Man Who Made Gasoline from Water" is about a 70-year-old inventor named Louis Enricht who in 1916 tried to convince would-be investors that he had discovered a method for converting a fuel tank filled with drinking water into gasoline merely by dropping a magic pill into the filler tube. Henry Ford expressed interest in the miracle pill, but a more skeptical businessman and chemist investigated the matter. You'll have to read the story to learn the results (very interesting), but you might be interested to know the name of that wise entrepreneur: Hudson Maxim. Does that name sound familiar? He was a partner with his brother Hiram in the famous arms and explosives company that developed the Maxim machine gun ... and was also the uncle of American Radio Relay League (ARRL) founder Hiram Percy Maxim. Hiram Percy Maxim held a patent for the first commercially successful gun silencer. And now you know --- the rest of the story.

In 2013, I was probably the first person to locate and document Hiram Percy Maxim's gravesite in Hagerstown, Maryland.

The Man Who Made Gasoline from Water

by Raymond Schuessler

Well, he actually made a substitute for gasoline - out of water and a mysterious green pill. It apparently would run a car on a penny a gallon. Even the experts were convinced. For a while.

On April 16, 1916, Louis Enricht, 70, of Farmingdale, Long Island, made a startling announcement: "Gentlemen, I have just invented a substitute for gasoline that can be manufactured for a penny a gallon."

Enricht allowed the reporters to inspect the empty tank of an automobile. When everyone was convinced the tank was empty, Enricht took a pail containing a gallon of water - which the reporters tasted - and slowly poured the water into the tank. Then he dropped a green pill into the tank. Enricht got behind the steering wheel, stepped on the starter and the motor roared to life. The reporters tumbled into the car and Enricht drove them around town.

William Haskell, then publisher of the Chicago Herald, decided to investigate Enricht's claims when he read the first reports in the papers. "I examined the entire engine and tank," Haskell wrote. "I even tasted the water before the mysterious green pill was dropped into the tank. Then I opened the petcock and examined the liquid which now tasted like bitter almonds. I also tasted the liquid at the carburetor which was the same. I was amazed when the auto started. We drove it around the city without any trouble."

Scientists debunked the theory that water can be made combustible by a chemical.

"That's what they always say when an important discovery is being made," Enricht retorted. But, when asked for another demonstration, he hedged. "I could not for I am out of the chemical and if I went to buy some, everyone would know the secret."

Yet the public hung on to the intriguing idea that this man had a wonderful secret. Even Henry Ford, something of a chemist himself, interviewed Enricht and commented, "I don't know what to think of Enricht yet, but if the tests prove satisfactory I will buy the process." This apparent endorsement by Ford proved a spur to the public.

On April 27, 1916, however, reporters discovered that Enricht had been indicted for fraud and fined $500 in 1903; moreover, he had persuaded British financiers to invest in a phony process to produce artificial stone, and had been involved in railroad embezzlement.

One week later the Maxim Munitions Corporation announced that it would offer $1 million to Enricht for the formula and would build a plant at Farmingdale. Three weeks later, in an open letter, Hudson Maxim, a consulting engineer of the firm, said that "the company only had an option and that no tests were yet completed."

Hudson Maxim wisely consulted Dr. Miller Reese Hutchinson, Chief Engineer for Thomas A. Edison, who had witnessed a previous test by another charlatan with a similar claim in the U.S. Brooklyn Navy Yard, and who told Maxim the story of this clever hoax. One John Andrews had come to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels with the claim, "I can turn water into gasoline."

Andrews was weighed and put into a tiny room with his secret ingredients, a pail of water and an engine. The throbbing burst of the engine from the little room left everyone astounded.

"I was amazed," said Hutchinson. "When I went home that night I tried to figure out how he possibly could have done it. I had smelled the exhaust to make sure it wasn't gasoline. And then it dawned on me: he must have used acetylene. By using acetone to take up the acetylene and {hen dissolving the acetone in water 1 had a satisfactory combustion mixture. '1 returned to the test engine and it ran perfectly on my mixture.

"The water, you see, was only the carrier to get the explosive into the cylinders. The action was the same as if you poured oil on ashes. The ashes will burn again, but only until the oil is exhausted. Sure, it's a substitute for gasoline - so is picric acid. But you should see what happens to the cylinders!"

The Maxim organizations dropped the Enricht deal. Still unperturbed, Enricht found a new backer, Benjamin Franklin Yoakum, who organized the National Motor Power Company. A potential customer was the British Army, whose inspectors reported that "the car operated as expeditiously and efficiently as it would have on gasoline. "

Again, however, something turned up - and once more the deal was off. Mr. Yoakum went to the courts. Enricht was forced to open up a safe deposit box where he was supposed to have placed his formula and a sample pill. The box was empty. The National Motor Company faded.

But Enricht kept right on inventing and succeeded in getting some of his Long Island neighbors to put up $42,000 to promote a device for extracting gasoline from peat. When the case reached the courts, one inventor testified, "We traced the line from which the gasoline issued, only to find that it led not to the machine which held the peat, but to a gasoline-filled tank hidden behind the wall."

That was the end of Enricht; nevertheless the idea of substituting doctored water for gasoline still appeals. Oddly enough, although water is cheap, the price of a "green pill" is never mentioned. One wonders - if the pills and water could replace gasoline - whether gasoline might not turn 0 U t still to be cheaper.

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Posted September 29, 2020

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