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Vintage Postcard of Agrol Ethanol Plant in Atchison spurs a look back at Kansas ethanol history

When we saw this vintage postcard featuring the Agrol Company ethanol plant in Atchison, Kansas, we couldn’t pass it up. The postcard was published by the E.C. Kropp Company around 1936. The back of the postcard states:

“Unique among Atchison’s industries in the industrial alcohol plant, the only one of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. This is the research demonstration plant of the Chemical Foundation and the Farm Chemurgic Council. Its main product is industrial alcohol made from farm products which sells under the trade name “Agrol” and is mixed with gasoline to make a high grade blended motor fuel.”

Agrol marketed a 10 percent ethanol blend. The experiment was supported by Henry Ford and the Chemical Foundation and at is peak in 1938, some 2,000 service stations in eight states sold Agrol. Advertising for the fuel stated: “Try a tank-full, you’ll be thankful!”

Henry Ford told a New York Times reporter that ethyl alcohol was “the fuel of the future” in 1925.

“The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumach out by the road, or from apples, weeds, sawdust — almost anything,” he said. “There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented. There’s enough alcohol in one year’s yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for a hundred years.” (“Ford Predicts Fuel from Vegetation,” New York Times, Sept. 20, 1925, p. 24.)

Ford’s Model T was the first Flex Fuel vehicle. Watch David Blume’s video explaining the use of ethanol in the Model T. Blume visits Ford Headquarters to give a hands-on demonstration of how drivers adjusted their vehicles for the higher octane ethanol fuel.

The Agrol plant was closed in 1938 and bought three years later by Cloud Cray Sr. who reopened the plant as Midwest Solvents Company, Inc. “The Company’s total production output in 1943 surpassed 5 million gallons, four times greater than the amount produced the previous year. By early 1945, daily production averaged 25,000 gallons. This resulted in Midwest Solvents being recognized as the most efficient company of 131 businesses then engaged in the production of industrial alcohol for wartime purposes.” *Historical Profile, MGP Ingredients, Inc.

Following World War II production shifted to beverage alcohol. In 1978, the company entered the fuel grade alcohol market. Following a plant explosion in 2002, the damaged distillery was replaced by a state of the art facility that enable the company to produce high quality, high purity food grade alcohol for use in beverage and industrial applications. Information from *Historical Profile, MGP Ingredients, Inc.

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