The Rest of the Yarn

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1865, he pursued his childhood interest in chemistry, ultimately earning a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. He started work at Standard Oil in Cleveland as a chemist and in 1890, transferred to Standard Oil of Indiana. There he worked his way up to superintendent of the refinery, director of the company, vice president, and ultimately president in 1918.

The rapid evolution of Ford’s gasoline-powered Model-T predicated the need for more gasoline, which was previously considered a waste product and subsequently dumped in rivers and streams. By the late 1920’s, the volumes of “straight-run” gasoline produced from crude distillation were no longer sufficient to meet market demand.

Working separately, he and Eugene Houdry began making great strides in the development of catalytic processes for producing higher volumes of gasoline, aviation fuel and middle distillate. Much of the impetus for this work was provided by the petroleum needs associated with World War I.

He demonstrated the value of structured laboratory R&D, and the cracking process he developed more than doubled the yield of gasoline from crude oil. During its first 15 years in use the process saved more than 1 billion barrels of crude oil. In addition, his organizational model for a research institute’s infrastructure accelerated the advent of corporate R&D centers in the oil, chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Having developed the first commercially successful process for cracking crude oil and the paradigm for corporate R&D, William Meriam Burton died in 1954, leaving a significant legacy to the oil industry. And now you know…The Rest of the Yarn.

History Quiz

From what commercial industry did the oil industry steal the concept of fractionation?

If you would like to participate in this month’s quiz, e-mail your answer to by noon, May 15. The winner, who will be chosen randomly from all correct answers, will receive a $50 gift certificate to a nice restaurant.

Answer to April’s Quiz

Enron was created in 1985 by the merger of Houston Natural Gas and Omaha-based InterNorth. Tiebreaker – In 1994 Total was successfully exploiting what was believed to be the world’s southernmost major hydrocarbon production at Tierra del Fuego.

Answer to March’s Quiz

In 1954, Nevada (the silver state) became the 29th oil-producing state in the U.S.

Congratulations to March’s winner (numerous correct answers this month) – Brad Nelson with The Hanover Company.