We really hate to be the bearer of the bad tidings, but in Vermont as this is written it is quite cold, snowing and a wind-whipped snow squall is passing through. Our workshop is all set for the winter season and this is being typed while sitting in front of a roaring fire in the wood stove.
The lead photo takes us back to a different time when antifreeze was used by motorists in the winter and many still used water (it cools better) in the warmer months along with a water pump lubricant and an anti-rust additive. The image shows a mechanic doing a coolant test on a vehicle, the photo is courtesy of Benjamin Ames.
- Eveready Prestone ethylene glycol advertisement, “Automotive Industries” July 12, 1930.
The modern age of non-freezing engine coolants began when ethylene glycol was introduced between 1926-’27 as an antifreeze. It literally passed the trial by fire in the late 1920s and the 1930s in tens of thousands engines, removing wasted heat from internal combustion engines. Its widespread use during World War II proved its potential, postwar it became widely used over 50-years after the first non-freezing solutions were introduced.
- “Winter Use And Housing Of Automobiles” using salt and water January 30, 1901, “The Horseless Age.”
Let’s turn the clock back to 1900, when the most popular non-freezing solution of the time was a brew of salt or calcium chloride (a salt-like mix of calcium and chlorine) and water; by adding 5-pounds of either to each gallon of coolant, the solution would not freeze until well below zero degrees fahrenheit. The article (above) from the Jan. 30, 1901 “The Horseless Age” tells of this practice and the best ways to garage a car, keep it warm, and start it.
Other early antifreeze solutions used at the time included glycerine (a thick, sweet, clear liquid derived from animal fats), kerosene also came into use, but presented a fire risk; both also attacked the natural rubber hoses used at the time. Methanol was also used; it is also known as methyl alcohol or wood alcohol (ethyl alcohol is the popular drink) and soon became the antifreeze of choice.
- Early antifreeze of an unknown origin,”The Automobile” January 1905.
Alcohol freezes at a lower temperature than water, which made it a popular non-freezing solution in early automobiles. However, alcohol, like calcium chloride has some qualities that make it poorly suited for cooling systems in automobiles.
One of the biggest problems with using alcohol is that like salt it can corrode the metallic cooling system components that are used in a cooling system. The other issue is alcohol evaporates in use. If the solution is not carefully checked often, the engine is subject to overheating, or freeze up.
- An article in “The Horseless Age” December 1910 shows the proportions of glycerine and alcohol used.
And finally, the first ethylene glycol that is still used today as an antifreeze-coolant was blended in the mid-1850s by French chemist Charles-Adolphe Wurtz. The substance, however, did not become widely used until the 1910s and ’20s. One of its first uses was as a replacement of glycerol used in the manufacture of dynamite.
If finally became available in the mid-1920s and was promoted as a permanent antifreeze. It mixes easily with water, and different proportions of it can be used to obtain the freeze-up protection needed in different climates.
When we return, winter fronts and the development of the thermostat will be covered.
- Advertisement in the November 11, 1920, “The Motor Age” for Johnson’s “Freeze-Proof” solution.
- Advertisement in the November 2, 1926, “Automotive Industries” for “McKay Antifreeze.”