Who invented gasoline? Gasoline was not invented, but is a by-product of the oil industry, with kerosene being the main product. Gasoline is produced by distillation, that is, the separation of the most volatile and valuable fractions of crude oil. However, what was invented were the numerous processes and agents necessary to improve the quality of gasoline to make it a higher quality product.

The Car

When the car was on its way to becoming the primary form of transportation, the need for new fuels arose. In the 19th century, coal, gas, camphene, and kerosene were used as fuels and in lamps. However, automobile engines needed fuels that required the use of oil as a raw material. However, refineries were unable to convert crude to gasoline quickly enough to supply cars leaving the assembly lines.


Therefore, there was a need to improve the fuel refining process to avoid detonation in the engines and increase their efficiency. Especially in the case of the new high compression engines that were being designed.

The process that was invented to improve the production of gasoline from crude oil was known as cracking or cracking. In oil refining, cracking is a process by which heavy hydrocarbon molecules break down into lighter molecules through heat, pressure, and sometimes the use of catalysts.

Cracking Term – William Merriam Burton

Cracking is the main process used for the commercial production of gasoline. Thus, in 1913 William Merriam Burton invented thermal cracking, a process that used heat and high pressures.

Catalytic Cracking

Finally, catalytic cracking ended up replacing thermal cracking in the production of gasoline. Catalytic cracking consists of the application of catalysts that generate chemical reactions, thus producing more gasoline. This process was invented by Eugene Houdry in 1937.

Additional Processes

Other methods were used to improve the quality of gasoline and increase its supply, including:

Polymerization: Converts gaseous olefins, such as propylene and butylene, into larger molecules close to gasoline.
Alkylation: a process that involves combining an olefin and paraffin, such as isobutane.
Isomerization: the conversion of straight-chain hydrocarbons to branched-chain hydrocarbons.
Reformed uses heat or a catalyst to regroup the molecular structure.

Gasoline Timeline & Fuel Improvements

Nineteenth-century automobile fuels were coal tar distillates and the lightest fractions of crude oil distillation.
On September 5, 1885, Sylvanus Bowser manufactured the first fuel pump in Fort Wayne, Indiana for Jake Gumper, also from Fort Wayne. This fuel nozzle had non-return valves, wooden pistons, and a capacity of one barrel.

  • On September 6, 1892, the first gasoline tractor, which was manufactured by John Froelich in Iowa, was shipped to Langford, South Carolina. There it was used for threshing for approximately two months. It had a single vertical cylinder gasoline engine mounted on wooden rails, and it powered a JI Case thresher. Froelich formed the Waterloo Gasoline Tractor Engine Company, which would later be acquired by the John Deere Plow Company.
  • In the early 20th century, oil companies produced gasoline as a simple distillate of oil.
    In the 1910s, the storage of gasoline on residential properties was prohibited by law.
  • On January 7, 1913, William Meriam Burton was granted a patent for his cracking process to convert oil to gasoline.
  • On January 1, 1918, the first gasoline line began to transport this fuel through a pipe of about 8 centimeters along more than 60 kilometers from Salt Creek to Casper (Wyoming).
  • Charles Kettering modified an internal combustion engine so that it could run on kerosene. However, this kerosene engine produced a knock that ended up cracking the cylinder head and pistons.
  • Thomas Midgley Jr. discovered that the cause of the knocking was kerosene droplets that vaporized during combustion. Midgley investigated anti-knock agents, culminating in the addition of tetraethyl lead to fuel.
  • In 1923, Almer McDuffie McAfee developed the first commercially viable catalytic cracking process in the oil industry. This method allowed the production of gasoline from crude oil to be doubled or even tripled compared to the standard distillation methods then used.
  • In the mid-1920s, gasoline had 40-60 octane.
  • In the 1930s, the oil industry stopped using kerosene.
  • In 1937, Eugene Houdry invented low-quality catalytic fuel cracking to produce high-octane gasoline.
  • During the 1950s, the compression ratio was increased and more octane fuels began to be used. Lead levels increased, and new refining (hydrocracking) processes began.
  • In 1960, Charles Plank and Edward Rosinski patented (US patent number 3,140,249) the first commercially viable zeolite catalyst in the oil industry. It allowed catalytic cracking of oil to obtain lighter products, such as gasoline.
  • In the 1970s, unleaded fuels began to be used.
    Between 1970 and 1990 lead was discontinued.
  • In 1990, the Clean Air Act introduced major changes to gasoline, aimed at reducing pollution.