F is for Guido Franch

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for Round 22 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if there are repeats of previous posts.

Like the secret of immortality or turning lead into gold, there are arcane legends as old as time, but none stranger than the magical petrol pill promoted by Guido Franch.

Franch was born in Livingston, Illinois, in 1910 and left school at the age of twelve to become a coal miner. He might have remained a blue collar worker except that in the 1950s he ‘discovered’ how to turn water into gasoline.

He called the process MOTA (atom spelt backwards) the secret ingredient being a powder that he would add to water which then turned green. Franch then poured the liquid into a lawn mower’s fuel tank which then started thus demonstrating that he had turned the water into high-octane fuel.

Franch demonstrates MOTA

Franch claimed that the magic powder had been invented by the fictitious German scientist named Dr Alexander Kraft and that the secret formula could not be revealed for fear that the oil industry would have it suppressed. The miraculous invention was covered by the tabloid press which encouraged small investors to pledge money to Franch, money that he was more than glad to take.

When pressed to provide samples of the transmutation powder, it was found to contain nothing more than green food colouring and in 1954 Franch was prosecuted for fraud but was acquitted when bizarrely a prosecution witness admitted that it was possible that the MOTA powder might just work.

Franch vanished for twenty years but reappeared in 1974 again demonstrating his wonder powder, raising $50,000 from investors, and in 1979 he was again in court charged with fraud in Chicago. During the trial, he claimed that the Ford Motor Company had tried to buy the formula for $32 million.

The prosecution produced a witness who testified that Franch had admitted the formula was a hoax and that he had used aviation fuel to run the lawn mower.

Franch was convicted on four counts of mail fraud, and one count of interstate transportation of a fraud victim, and sentenced to five years probation. He died in 1983 and the ‘secret’ of his powder has never been found.

For more information see the Gasoline Pill entry on Wikipedia, Chicago Today, Modern Folklore and Fuel Pill.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

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