Dr. William M. Burton and Dr. Robert E. Humphreys
Pioneered the Burton-Humphreys Experimental Cracking Still
Class of 2005
In 1909 there was a growing demand for gasoline in the new age of the automobile. Converting crude oil to gasoline was a very slow process and oil refineries were concerned about a possible gas shortage. At an oil refinery in Whiting, Ind., Dr. William Burton and Dr. Robert Humphreys developed a revolutionary process that changed the fuel industry during the early 1900s. This process was discovered when Dr. William M. Burton, general manager of manufacturing for Standard Oil of Indiana (BP, Whiting) and its main chemist Dr. Robert E. Humphreys worked together to try to solve the problem of increasing the amount of gasoline produced from crude oil. This type of experimentation had never been done before at Standard Oil.
The Burton-Humphreys Experimental Cracking Still became a reality after two years of experimentation and research. Humphreys experimented with the oil under various high temperatures and pressures. After two years of experimenting, they discovered an oil refining method called thermal cracking that significantly increased gasoline amounts. The patent was issued on July 3, 1912, and became known as the Burton Process. Working under dangerous conditions, Burton and Humphreys pioneered the oil refining process and made it possible to double the amount of gasoline. This technology that was the driving force behind meeting America’s fuel needs was developed at Standard Oil (BP) in Whiting.