The Ethanol Papers - Paperturn manuscript - Flipbook - Page 29
LIFE AS WE MIGHT HAVE KNOWN IT: What If Ethanol Was Our Primary
Events of the American Civil War set in stone social and economic conditions
that have been with us ever since, and they are certain to be with us long into
the foreseeable future.
Perhaps the least considered of the events were the Revenue Acts of 1861 and
1862, which were passed by the U.S. Congress to fund the Union's military
efforts. Ramifications of these bills included the first Federal income tax statute
and the levying of excise taxes (often referred to as "sin taxes") on tobacco and
ethyl alcohol (ethanol). Alcohol's tax rose to more than $2 per gallon, regardless
of whether the alcohol was intended for consumption or industrial purposes. In
today's money, that's purchasing power equivalent to about $120. In 1860, rent
for 4 rooms was $4.45/month; land was selling for $3 to $5 an acre; a laborer’s
wage was 90 cents a day.
In 1872, some of the taxes were repealed - income tax, for example. The alcohol tax remained in place for decades until finally removed by the 1906 Free
The high tax on alcohol priced alcohol out of consideration for use as lamp and
kitchen stove fuel, colloquially referred to as "burning fluid" or sometimes "camphene." The alcohol-turpentine fuel had come into widespread use earlier in the
1800s as whale oil became too expensive and hard to come by.
The beneficiary of alcohol's forced decline in popularity was the nascent petroleum oil industry and their principal product, kerosene. Up until the imposition
of the tax, alcohol burning fluid and kerosene were similarly priced. After the tax
was levied, alcohol burning fluid cost as much as 10 times more than kerosene.
Kerosene had also been taxed to help the war effort: a paltry 10 cents.
The earliest efforts at building stationary and mobile internal combustion engines used alcohol fuels: Samuel Morey in 1826; Nicholas Otto in 1860; Henry
Ford's Quadricycle in 1896. Other builders of horseless carriages, such as
Charles Duryea, used the new fuel "gasoline" because of its dramatically lower
price. However, early automobile racers all used alcohol or alcohol blends for
In countries that didn't have domestic petroleum resources and onerous alcohol
taxes, alcohol fuels became the preferred engine fuel. In 1899 Germany, the
price of gasoline and alcohol fuel were both equivalent to approximately 27