The Man Who Accidentally Killed The Most People In History

The Man Who Accidentally Killed The Most People In History

One scientist caused two environmental disasters and the deaths of millions. A part of this video is sponsored by Wren. Offset your carbon footprint on Wren: ​ For the first 100 people who sign up, I will personally pay for the first month of your subscription!

Massive thanks to Prof. Francois Tissot for suggesting we make a video on the topic of isotope geochemistry. Huge thanks to Prof. Bruce Lanphear for consulting with us on lead and cardiovascular diseases. Thanks to the Caltech Archives for the audio of Patterson’s interview. Thanks to Vincent Mai for lending us your Snatoms kit. Thanks to Rayner Moss for the help with the fire-piston.

Patterson’s 1995 interview audio courtesy of the Archives, California Institute of Technology.

Other great resources you should check out:
Bill Bryson has a chapter in his fantastic “A Short History of Nearly Everything”
Radiolab have a wonderful podcast:…
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey has a wonderful episode – S1E7 which does a great job of telling the story of Clair Patterson
A fantastic Mental floss article –…


Much of the lead-crime hypothesis data is from Rick Nevin’s work –

WHO factsheet on lead poisoning –…

WHO press release about the end of leaded gasoline…

UNICEF report –

Needleman, H. (2004). Lead poisoning. Annu. Rev. Med., 55, 209-222.

Needleman, H. L. (1991). Human lead exposure. CRC Press.

Needleman, H. L. et al. (1979). Deficits in psychologic and classroom performance of children with elevated dentine lead levels. New England journal of medicine, 300(13), 689-695. –

Needleman, H. L. et al. (1996). Bone lead levels and delinquent behavior. Jama, 275(5), 363-369.

Kovarik, W. J. (1993). The ethyl controversy: the news media and the public health debate over leaded gasoline, 1924-1926

Edelmann, F. T. (2016). The life and legacy of Thomas Midgley Jr. In Papers and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Tasmania

More, A. F. et al. (2017). Next‐generation ice core technology reveals true minimum natural levels of lead (Pb) in the atmosphere: Insights from the Black Death. GeoHealth, 1(4), 211-219.

McFarland, M. J., et al. (2022). PNAS 119(11), e2118631119.

Kovarik, W. (2005). Ethyl-leaded gasoline. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, 11(4), 384-397.

Nevin, R. (2007). Understanding international crime trends: the legacy of preschool lead exposure. Environmental research, 104(3), 315-336. –

Ericson, J. E., et al. (1979). Skeletal concentrations of lead in ancient Peruvians. New England Journal of Medicine, 300(17), 946-951. –

Patterson, Claire. The Isotopic Composition of Trace Quantities of Lead and Calcium

Boutron, C. F., & Patterson, C. C. (1986). Lead concentration changes in Antarctic ice during the Wisconsin/Holocene transition. Nature, 323(6085), 222-225. –

Patterson, C. (1956). Age of meteorites and the earth. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 10(4), 230-237. –

Lanphear, B. P. et al (2018). Low-level lead exposure and mortality in US adults: a population-based cohort study. The Lancet Public Health, 3(4), e177-e184. –

Schaule, B. K., & Patterson, C. C. (1981). Lead concentrations in the northeast Pacific: evidence for global anthropogenic perturbations. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 54(1), 97-116. –

Special thanks to Patreon supporters: Inconcision, Kelly Snook, TTST, Ross McCawley, Balkrishna Heroor, Chris LaClair, Avi Yashchin, John H. Austin, Jr.,, Dmitry Kuzmichev, Matthew Gonzalez, Eric Sexton, john kiehl, Anton Ragin, Diffbot, Micah Mangione, MJP, Gnare, Dave Kircher, Burt Humburg, Blake Byers, Dumky, Evgeny Skvortsov, Meekay, Bill Linder, Paul Peijzel, Josh Hibschman, Mac Malkawi, Michael Schneider, jim buckmaster, Juan Benet, Ruslan Khroma, Robert Blum, Richard Sundvall, Lee Redden, Vincent, Stephen Wilcox, Marinus Kuivenhoven, Clayton Greenwell, Michael Krugman, Cy ‘kkm’ K’Nelson, Sam Lutfi, Ron Neal

Written by Derek Muller, Petr Lebedev, Chris Stewart, and Katie Barnshaw
Edited by Trenton Oliver
Filmed by Petr Lebedev
Animation by Fabio Albertelli, Jakub Misiek, Iván Tello, Mike Radjabov, and Caleb Worcester
SFX by Shaun Clifford
Additional video/photos supplied by Getty Images
Music from Epidemic Sound
Produced by Derek Muller, Petr Lebedev, and Emily Zhang

You may also like...

30 Responses

  1. Veritasium says:

    Happy Earth Day! If you want to offset your carbon emissions I will personally cover the first month of your subscription at (for the first 100 people to sign up)

    • David Newland says:

      Was close to being carbon neutral by then I had a stroke vnow my wife has decided she’s happier than with a propane boiler in lieu of a wood gassifier which is a boiler it used about half the amount of wood than my old boiler did.

  2. FlyntofRWBY says:

    Imagine being the person responsible for making an entire generation dumber on average. That’s a sad legacy to leave behind.

  3. Steven Gordon says:

    The freon problem was difficult to anticipate (if not impossible), but lead was an obvious problem. Hard to believe a less poisonous anti-knock agent has not been discovered.

    • Vaughn Macdonald says:

      Orrrrr, go electric. Geez!

    • Chance Jewson says:

      @Fuseteam ꧂ Here in US. ethanol is cheaper than gas. Isn’t that the same every where?
      I noticed the super unleaded gas and stuff is more expensive than regular “unleaded” gasoline.

    • Cylon Toaster says:

      We use his other discovery – ethanol in fuel. If you go to a gas station, you’ll frequently notice it mentions the fuel mixture contains at least 10% ethanol. To assist with the costs, this is also part of the reason why the agricultural industry will receive many government subsidies, especially for corn to be turned into ethanol for the express purpose of being added to fuel.

  4. Marc509Mtz says:

    The irony of him poisoning himself, poisoning others, then dying from his own contraption. This guy was the grim reaper.

  5. xLvxio says:

    Already saw this story few years ago but I still can’t believe how insane this is…

    • Save Money Save the Planet says:

      It’s seriously wild how many stories there are about people like this selling the human race out for a couple bucks

  6. Sooty Grunter says:

    I remember being 5 years old and filling our old Commodore with leaded petrol while other children also did the same. This really makes me wonder how much damage all of us received during these times. I also wonder if lead poisoning could be the reason some smelter towns here in Australia have high violence(especially domestic violence) rates as they currently blame work/life balance and alcoholism. Usually more predominant is copper towns.

    • gitpull says:

      @The Berserk Horse There is no reason to bring race into this lol

    • Kenneth Nevel says:

      You have to remember that it was a prison conley for awhile and the some of people don’t have the best gene pool in the past.

    • The Berserk Horse says:

      Australians are way more aggressive than the average person worldwide period (except the southern states of USA). It’s like almost everyone in Australia is a “cracker”. I’m from Canada and when I visited Australia it was insane to me the difference in temperament even in the more civilized places in Australia. Why do you think this is? I could not imagine growing up in Australia, everyone is so in your face.

  7. Katherine says:

    No I don’t think every death they caused was accidental… negligent at best.
    Incredible story by the way, thank you for another amazing video.

  8. Ben Fisher says:

    Dude… you just blew my mind with the lead exposure graph. The fact that you can correlate the Greek and Roman empires? That’s so freaking cool!

  9. flantc says:

    “Accidentally” seems like a generous way to title this guy’s story.

  10. GET HOT with Shannon Nadj says:

    It’s interesting that the person who caused the harm in this case did so much of it and did it with a huge amount of support. Meanwhile, the person who tried to undo it had to go to great lengths to prove there was a problem and was still seen as extreme at the time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *